Monday, February 11, 2008

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick

This is a book my sixth grader brought home to read for the Maud Hart Lovelace awards. It is the story of a 13 year old boy who is trying to muddle through middle school while his 5 year old brother battles leukemia.

There is much you would expect from a book on this topic: frightening scenes of watching his baby brother getting stabbed with long needles, the death of another patient on the pediatric ward, the steady progression of the protagonist through the various stages of grief: disbelief, bargaining, anger, sadness, acceptance.

The beauty of this book is that all this is done with a very light touch. The tone is chatty and fairly lighthearted, while handling a hard topic. The author claims he was inspired to write it while teaching in a middle school, when one of his students had a younger sibling get cancer. He felt she needed a book that showed her that it was okay to laugh, and take joy in life, even during such a serious health crisis. Because he couldn't find that book, he decided to write it.

There are times where the 13 year old voice wears thin--he starts out sarcastic, and as things get harder for him, we get reporting of his emotions--we are told, not shown, because the snarky tone was so strongly established, that it's hard for Sonnenblick to move his character into a different emotional space. Instead, we get sentences like: "Suddenly, I realized that tears were running down my face, and I didn't know why." Maybe he doesn't know why, but shouldn't we?

Still, this is an "issue" book that isn't pompous or overbearing in handling its subject, which is sometimes all you can ask for from a YA book.

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