Friday, April 23, 2010
"If Jeremiah wanted, he could be in the front row of his favorite ball team's game. He could be swimming or eating ice cream. He could know what it feels like to fly. If he were a different kind of boy, he could stand in fire just because it was something he'd always wanted to do, or take steps down into the ocean and touch some shark's fin. Braid up the tentacles of a jellyfish. But he's not that kind of boy. He's just a boy who can't let the world that he left behind get behind him."
I've described Jacqueline Woodson's various works, reviewed here at You've GOTTA Read This over the past six months as precious. Gentle. Delicate. Beautiful. Unassuming. I'm really not sure how much more I can say about her books. They are spare - rarely over 150 pages. But they are rich and complex and so very efficient, getting the very most from every word. I can't recommend her enough.
I reviewed If You Come Softly at the end of February. I fell in love with this sweet, heartbreaking story. I melted into a puddle when I heard there was a sequel called "Behind You". As hard as it was, I needed to know the "afterwards".
It would be difficult for me to talk about "Behind You" without spoiling the end of "If You Come Softly". If it is important to you to maintain the integrity of the story, please skip ahead to my conclusion.
In the aftermath of Miah's death, the lives of his loved ones are shattered - their day-to-day lives have come to a complete halt. His mother, his father, his best friend Carlton, and classmate Kennedy. But most of all, his first true love, Ellie. "Behind You" gives us the perspective of each of these people, their grief, their memories of Miah, and how they attempt to cope with the hole in their hearts. We also hear from Miah's dead grandmother and Miah, who both reside in the "in between" (to steal the term from The Lovely Bones). Miah is reluctant to travel to the other side, watching his family, friends and girlfriend reach out to each other for solace and attempt to move on with their lives.
And, typical of Woodson, she also addresses some taboo subjects with grace. At the top of the list, and the most poignant, is a young man's struggle to come to grips with his sexual orientation. While I feel that the issues with this struggle were superficially addressed, and were resolved a little too smooth to be realistic, I do admire that it was addressed at all. I mean, we have 118 pages to work with here. We're not going to solve world hunger or the issues of coming out in 118 pages.
I would recommend that you read "If You Come Softly" first, before you read "Behind You", otherwise the relationships and emotions will be meaningless to you. In fact, just get both of them at the same time, block off a couple hours of your time, get a wad of tissues, and behold one of the best middle grade authors that the literary world has to offer.
4.5 out of 5 stars