Monday, March 19, 2012

Alexis M. Smith, GLACIERS

This is a little jewelbox of a novel, poetic and poignant. Smith gives us one day in the life of Isabel, who collects items from junkshops and works in a library restoring old tattered books; she deals, gently, in scraps and broken things. At work, there's a computer tech named Spoke who, like her, deals in broken things: with his grandfather, as a child, he'd pick up lamps and bicycles and whatnot off the side of the road and take them back to their workshop. [Spoiler alert:] After high school, he enlists and becomes a fix-it guy in Iraq. One day, some Iraqi kids are trying to ride a broken bike, and he fixes it for them. But a donkey carrying a bomb comes by and blows everyone up; Spoke takes a spoke to his lung. Now Isabel, who loves Spoke, finds out that he has to go back for another tour in Iraq. This book is in part about how the material world (literally, in his case) gets under our skin, and how our stories are made up of scraps and treasures that we fix in place.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wendy Mass, FINALLY

An engaging, sweet, and at times very funny account of a girl turning twelve. She's got this list of all the things she'll finally be allowed to do when she's twelve... get a pet, get a cell phone, get her ears pierced, go to boy-girl parties. Except the bunny she picks turns out to be a psycho; her cell phone number is formerly a pizza shop, so she gets calls at all hours for pizza orders; she has a terrible allergic reaction to the gold in the earrings; and the boy-girl party isn't as much fun as she thought. The tone is light, and middle-grade readers will enjoy. First lines: "I'm a big wisher. I'll wish on anything. Shooting stars, stray eyelashes, dandelion tops, coins in fountains. Birthday candles (my own and other people's)."


This book has a great pedigree ... from SCBWI grant winner to a fabulous agent to a great publisher, and it's a New York Times bestseller. The protagonist is a girl who commits suicide; but before she dies, she makes 7 cassette tapes (13 sides, one is blank), explaining the thirteen reasons why she did it--as in, the thirteen people who hurt her through spreading nasty rumors, letting her down cruelly, and not catching on to how unhappy she was. She sends the box of tapes out and they circulate among the people, so her voice speaks from behind the grave (a variation of the fantasy: if I killed myself, those people would feel bad and cry at my funeral ... the catch of course always being that the victim can't be there to enjoy the spectacle). The narrator, Chad, who seems like a genuinely nice boy, is somewhere in the middle of the receivers. So we get her voice in italics interspersed with his thoughts.
The plot reminds me of that haunting play, An Inspector Calls, in which a working-class girl kills herself and Inspector Goole (what a name) uncovers how every member of a middle-class family played a part in driving her to do it.
Teenage suicide is horrifying, and my heart goes out to kids who are so full of despair; but (here's my ugly confession) I just could not warm up to this girl. Maybe I kept my distance because I knew she was dead from the beginning? Or because once she decided that most of the world was hurtful, she couldn't give anyone a chance (including the reader ... the 14th side of the cassettes, in a way)? Or maybe because she didn't strike me as despairing and sad ... just very angry. I know despair and anger are related; despair is often thought of as anger turned toward the self. I guess someone who is this angry is willing to play the ultimate trump card to drive her point home. Maybe I kept my distance because this book scares me for my own kids.
Has anybody out there read this yet?