Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley (9780062908025)
This verse novel for teens tells the story of two families shattered by one gun shot. Jonah had always been a daredevil, but that ended one day at his best friend Clay’s house when he was playing around with a gun. Now Jonah is bedridden, unable to do anything for himself. Most people don’t believe that he can understand things, but his sister Liv knows that he’s still in there. She spends most of her nights awake with Jonah and his nurses, since she’s often the only one who can calm Jonah down. Meanwhile, there’s a trial unfolding to see who is at fault for Jonah’s injuries and if his ongoing care will be paid for. Liv tries to protect her mother from the editorials in the newspaper and finds herself also making an unlikely connection with Clay’s mother in the center of the road between their homes. Liv also speaks to Clay, who has left school after the accident and given up his phone. She is drawn to him as they avoid talking about Jonah and find both new and old ways to communicate together. As Jonah’s trial goes on, the town becomes divided over the case, but Liv becomes all the more focused on her brother and Clay.
Culley’s verse is written with the tautness of a violin string. Her words stretch and hum, resonant with meaning. She doesn’t use any extra words, her poetry spare and rich with emotion that goes unstated but fills the pages. Beautifully, she manages to reach beyond the arguments about gun control to tell a deep story about the impact of a single gun on two families. That alone is a feat while still not ignoring the politically charged atmosphere entirely.
Liv is the voice of the book, her feelings and struggles crossing the page with her actions speaking of so much more pain than she can express even to the reader. She is a protagonist caught in a river current of grief and loss that she can’t find a way to process other than to just go through it. Again, Culley gives her the space to just be on the page, speak in her voice, and experience what her family is going through.
Tragic and profoundly moving, this verse novel is something special. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (9781481438254)
Released October 24, 2017.
When Will’s older brother Shawn is murdered in front of him, Will knows what he has to do. He follows the rules that Shawn taught him. No crying. No snitching. Get revenge. So Will gets a gun out of Shawn’s dresser in the room that they used to share and heads out of the apartment. But on his ride down to the lobby in the elevator, Will finds himself on a unique experience. On the sixth floor, Buck enters the elevator. Buck, who gave Shawn the gun that Will has in his pants waist. Buck, who had been killed. As the elevator continues down floor by floor, other dead people enter. There is the girl that Will saw killed when he was a child. There are family members who were killed. All of them followed the rules. All of them have a message for Will. All share Will’s story, but how will his story end?
This book is quite simply a masterpiece. Written in verse that captures the guilt, sadness and fear of all of the losses and the violence on the streets, the book sings a mournful cadence that gets into your blood. It’s a book that you can’t stop thinking about. One that asks far more questions than it answers, asking both Will and the reader about what they would do. Nothing presented here is simple or clear. It is all muddled, confusing, filled with grief and loss, revenge and pain.
It takes a great author to craft a story in an elevator. Write it in verse that soars, then tighten the experience to one room, one long ride into the future and choices that have to be made. The verse is exceptional, the voice of Will and his ghosts are a clarion call to peace and breaking the rules. But can Will hear them in time?
Moving and deep, this verse novel is one of the best. Get this into the hands of teens, particularly reluctant readers who will discover they love poetry after all. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (InfoSoup)
Genie and Ernie are heading to Virginia to stay with their paternal grandparents for the very first time. Though they have met their grandmother before, this is the first time that Genie has met him. The difference between their lives in Brooklyn and their grandparents’ home in rural Virginia are huge. But that’s not the only thing that surprises Genie. He is shocked to find out that his grandfather is blind. Genie is a kid who is full of questions to ask all of the time and so he immediately asks his grandfather questions about his blindness. Genie knows that his older brother Ernie is braver than he is, always taking up fights for Genie and protecting him. He also knows that his grandfather is immensely brave too. When something goes wrong though, Genie will have to rethink what it means to be brave.
Reynolds is so amazingly gifted as a writer. He astounded me with this departure from his more urban writing. He captures the rural world with a beautiful clarity, using the natural world around as symbols for what is happening to the humans who live there. It is done both subtly and overtly, creating a book that is multi-layered and gorgeous to read. Throughout Reynolds speaks to real issues such as guns and disabilities. They are dealt in their complexity with no clear point of view stated, giving young readers a chance to think things through on their own.
Reynolds has created a fabulous protagonist in Genie, a boy filled with so many questions to ask that he has to write them down to keep track of them. He is smart, verbose and caring. Yet at the same time, he agonizes over mistakes, trying to fix them on his own and thus creating a lot of the tension of the book. The depiction of the grandparents is also beautifully done, allowing them to be far more than elderly figures. They are often raw, sometimes wise, and also dealing with life.
A brilliant read for the middle grades, this book is filled with magnificent writing and great diverse characters. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe
Kyle can’t remember what happened in the moments before his best friend Jason died. He tries to write the scene many different ways in the styles of his favorite film directors, but nothing fills in that blank in his memory. Did he mean to kill his friend? What happened in those few seconds? And why can’t he remember?
Ayarbe’s first novel is a dark nest of tension, doubt and fear. Her ingenious use of film and novels as a language to psychology will make the book very accessible to teens who enjoy movies. Kyle is a fascinating protagonist who feels such guilt for what happened, no matter his own personal role in it. His family’s reaction as well as the reaction of Jason’s family is so well done and gut wrenching that it could be a novel of its own. Beautifully, taut writing with great characters. No one could wish for more.
I just have to mention the inclusion of a vivid school librarian who is a large part of Kyle’s recovery. What a joy to have the librarian be not only a character but an intriguing and strong one.
Highly recommended for teens who enjoy a good psychological mystery. Even better if they enjoy films too. Appropriate for ages 13-16.