Review: A Certain October by Angela Johnson

certain october

A Certain October by Angela Johnson

Johnson continues to write powerful books in a short format.  Here we meet Scotty, a teenage girl who thinks of herself as rather bland, like tofu.  The people around her seem more vibrant and complex like her little brother who has autism and enjoys trains, being naked, and eating cookies.  Her best friends too seem to be more interesting to Scotty.  Then in October everything changes because of a train accident.  Scotty’s little brother is injured severely and another boy is killed. Scotty feels responsible for both of them, though she barely knew the other boy.  This is a story that takes the small details of life and then shows how a single event can tear through, changing life forever.

Johnson writes like a poet, using unique symbolism to make her points.  Scotty sees herself as tofu, bland until someone else adds flavor.  Readers though will immediately understand that that is how Scotty views herself, not how the she actually is.  Instead Scotty is an intriguing mix of teen angst, intelligence, and a big heart. 

Johnson writes her characters in real life.  They all read as real people, not even the parents becoming stereotypical.  The teen boys are just as human as the main character, treating the girls with respect and friendship.  It’s a refreshing change to see male secondary characters who are more than a stereotype too.  When Scotty is grieving, the power of family and friendship together is obvious.

With its dynamic cover and short length, this book is sure to be picked up by teen readers.  Here they will find a strong heroine who is intensely and utterly real.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.