Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sad Books

Geithner, Carole. If Only. (1 March 2012)
Corinna's mother has died over the summer after a very brief bout with cancer that leaves Corinna and her father reeling. Going back to school is hard, because someone is forever saying something insensitive. Her best friend, Joci, doesn't understand why Corinna kept so much to herself, and retreats from the friendship. Luckily, there is a new girl, Clare, who understands how Corinna feels because Clare's father died several years ago, and it's still hard. There are neighbors and friends who are helpful, and some who are not, there are hard anniversaries, and a grief support group at school that Corinna grudgingly finds to help. Following the year after her mother's death, this book describes in great detail the different stages of grief and coping that Corinna and her father travel through.
Strengths: The bio on the back flap says that Ms. Geithner has worked with children who have experienced a parental death, and this clearly shows in the wealth of details. The story does move along well, and while Corinna is still grieving after a year, things are improving somewhat.
Weaknesses: VERY sad. This was hard to read in one sitting, since there are so many painful details.

Knowles, Jo. See You at Harry's (8 May 2012)
Fern's parents spend a lot of time at the family restaurant their grandfather started, Harry's, and love to use their family in the commercials. Sara is taking a gap year and not thrilled with the whole idea, although she does appreciate one of the busboys. Three-year-old Charlie is a handful, but the light of everyone's lives. Holden is struggling with bullies at school and his first romance... with an older boy, Gray. Fern is just trying to understand her friend Ran, to take care of Charlie, and to help Holden with the painful process of coming out to their family. When a tragedy occurs, Fern finds it hard to do even the simplest things and isn't sure that life will ever be right again.
Strengths: This will be one that teachers love. Holden's story is certainly well done and compelling, and seeing it through Fern's eyes is an interesting way to approach it.
Weaknesses: The tragedy completely swamps the story in pages of catatonic, unable to cope handwringing. I am sure this is exactly how a close-knit family would react; I just didn't find it interesting to read about. Middle school students usually like to read stories without so much parental involvement, and younger students might not understand the nuanced story of Holden's self discovery.

Did learn that I will read any book with blue gingham on the cover!

Lowry, Lois. Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye. (1978)                  
Natalie is perfectly happy with her kooky, artistic mother and her supportive doctor father, but as she is preparing to graduate from high school and make her way in the world, she is curious as to what would have caused her birth mother to give her up for adoption in 1960. For a graduation present, her parents give her all of the documents that they have surrounding her birth, as well as a credit card for expenses, and their best wishes. Before long, she is traveling to the town where she was born, visiting with doctors and nurses who were at the local hospital at the time, and consulting old newspapers and yearbooks at the public library, and tracking down a series of people before finding her grandmother's phone number and getting the contact information for her birth mother, who lives in New York City. Traveling there, she doesn't quite know what she wants, or what she will find, but knows that she has to answer the questions about who she really is before she can get on with her life.
Strengths: This is still available, in hardcover, from Houghton Mifflin! The search for identity and the longing to know about the past is still palpable. It is more of a young adult novel due to some of the themes. I must have read this in high school-- the cover is so familiar-- and I love Lowry's early work.
Weaknesses: This is unfortunately rather dated. Aside from the mentions of fountain pens and milk men, the whole concept of adoption has changed so radically in the last 35 years that the premise of not having any information about one's birth mother might be incomprehensible. Also, this book was written before the internet, so the whole search process would be completely changed.

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