So far, my school community has been very fortunate. We've had family members of students and staff serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, but all of them have come back. Not everyone is so fortunate. Here are too Young Adult books that address this issue of loss.
Kokie, E.M. Personal Effects.
11 September 2012, Candlewick Press (ARC from Young Adults Book Central, and reviewed there.)
Matt has enough to deal with. His father is very controlling and overbearing, more so since the death of Matt's mother. Matt must do well in school, work a job, control his anger, and most of all, join the military. Since Matt's brother, T.J., has recently died while serving in the military, it's not something Matt is really interested in. He's having a lot of anger management issues, especially when kids in school spout pacificistic rhetoric. His father barely mentions T.J., has taken down pictures, and won't let Matt have his brother's things. When several foot lockers of T.J.'s possessions are delivered to the house, Matt goes through them and finds, among other things, passionate letters from a woman named Celia, along with pictures of a young girl whom Matt believes to be his brother's child. With the support of his childhood friend (who is quickly becoming more of a girlfriend) Shauna, he plans a road trip to meet Celia and try to understand more about his brother's life, despite the fact that he is missing exams and work, and his father doesn't want to go. He ends up learning much more about his brother than he ever expected, and is able to come to terms a little bit more with the way that his family has been falling apart.
Strengths: This was a very powerful book, and excellently written. The scenes where Shauna is flirting with Matt but he is trying not to give in to her because he doesn't want to ruin their friendship are painful to read, but true to life. The dynamics between Matt and his father are also difficult but painful, and T.J.'s secrets are revealed and dealt with in a constructive way, even though this is not easy. I think this may be my nominee for the Young Adult Fiction section of the Cybils Awards this year.
Weaknesses: Too many f-bombs and sexual situations to have in a middle school library. I can understand why these things are used, and they are by no means gratuitous, but it's still a bit much for middle school.
McGarry, Katie. Pushing the Limits.
31 July 2012, Harlequin Teen (ARC from Baker and Taylor)
Reviewed at Young Adult Books Central
Echo Emerson thinks that she is doing fairly well, considering all that has happened in her life-- her brother has been killed in the war, her father has married the woman who babysat her and is expecting a baby, and there is a restraining order against her mother. Little wonder that she is having trouble keeping up with grades, dealing with her boyfriend, and taking part in the activities she enjoyed before everything fell apart. She doesn't appreciate counseling all that much, but when she is assigned to tutor Noah, she finds that it's not so bad. Noah's parents have died in a house fire, he's in foster care, and his younger brothers are with a different family. The two are drawn to each other over their shared problems, and working together helps them to heal.
Strengths: Again, Echo's attempts to deal with the death of a beloved brother are painful but realistic. She would like to finish restoring a car that he had bought, but her father just wants to move on. There are secrets that both characters hide that are revealed slowly but in an interesting fashion.
Weaknesses: Again with the language and the sex. Echo breaks up with her first boyfriend because he is pressuring her, but there is still too much talk about it in general for middle school. Picky Reader, who is in 9th grade now, loves problem novels, but I am hesitating even giving this to her.