I pretty much knew what I was in for when I selected this book for my Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon. Horror. A sick stomach. Sadness. But I also knew it was compulsively readable, and less than 200 pages. Then I remembered Gillian.
A couple of years ago, I recommended this book to a colleague of mind that helped me run the Book Fair at our school. She bought it, took it home and read it, and the next day came back and told me she was going to use the book to do bodily harm to my person. She said it made her want to hang herself. Oops. Well, dare I read something like this when I need to stay focused and awake? Yes I did.
Synopsis: Melinda Sordino has just started high-school, and even though she has lived in the Syracuse area her entire life, she is an outcast. Her friends have abandoned her, and upperclassmen hate her. You see, over the summer, she called 911 while at a party, bringing down the full extent of the law on her peers. Nobody bothered to ask Melinda WHY she had called 911, and the effects of what happened that night have pushed Melinda into a dark corner in her mind. She stops talking, withdrawing from her parents, her teachers, her potential as a top student.
Melinda does find some escape in her art classes though. Her teacher is a bohemian and is non-judgemental to her unwashed hair and her silence. Her year-long project, to experiment with different art mediums in the form of a tree, frames a perfect analogy for her life in the 9th grade. From the starting point of a blackened, burned tree stump, to learning to form limbs and leaves and life, Melinda begins to find her place within her school. She also learns to find her voice, in order to speak up for herself and who she is inside.
My thoughts: Now I understand why my friend wanted to hit me. This was one tough read. Don't get me wrong, the pages turned quickly - the prose incredibly conversational - but it left me feeling sickened. The girl in this book is only one year older than my daughter. It struck terror in my heart that made me want to go burrow in the back of my closet.
My daughter was actually hanging out with me during most of the readathon, and at one point, she asked me what the book was about because she kept seeing me make faces. She knows it is a YA novel. So, with a squeaky constricted voice, I told her. And we actually had a good conversation about dangerous situations that she could find herself in, the sign of a true friend, and figuring out who has your back. We talked about the importance of speaking up when something goes wrong, and having someone to confide in. These days, talks like these are few and far between so I was grateful.
I didn't have the same experience in high school that Melinda did, but I knew people in her shoes. Anderson certainly knows her subjects, and I think that is what made this book all the more terrifying. These kids were real. The jocks, the goths, the cliques, the brains, the Casanova boys who made the rounds. And the outcasts.
This is an important book for kids (and parents of kids) to read. A thank you to JoAnn at Lakeside Musing for sending it to me!
4.5 out of 5