Friday, December 07, 2018

The Boy in the Black Suit

After seeing Mr. Reynolds speak at Books by the Banks, I decided to reread this. It's more of a Young Adult book, mainly because it's quiet and "nothing happens" (a very frequent comment from patrons if a book is slower), but as I was reading it while walking home, it occurred to me: Mr. Reynolds said he didn't read books because they didn't "speak his truth" and therefore didn't appeal to him.

I think my cultural bias is that I don't WANT the truth to be spoken. Who does? (People on the internet who like to slam me for my opinions, that's who!) The truth is often uncomfortable and inconvenient, and not polite. There were a lot of problems in my extended family, but NO ONE spoke about them. It even occurred to me that several of my friends had parents who had passed away, and it never came up in conversation. The truth that was spoken was the truth that you let everyone know. The socially acceptable truth. The right story. You didn't walk about divorce, or death, or disease, and certainly not about abuse or addiction.

This is why I don't like sad books unless they show the characters "bucking up". Everyone has sad situations, but the key to getting by is to hide all of them and do well despite them. This, of course, is not the philosophy today. Now I understand why I feel the way I do about sad books. What I still don't understand is why everyone doesn't feel the same way I do. Why on earth would you want people to know your business? Why air dirty laundry? Still, it's the current thought process, so I will try to be aware of it and think about books accordingly while still living my own personal life the way that my grandmother would have wanted.

Reynolds, Jason. The Boy in the Black Suit.
January 6th 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

Matthew's mother has passed away from breast cancer, and he's struggling with the aftermath. He's tired of being the boy whose mother has died at school, and tired of getting sympathy from everyone. He appreciates that his friend Chris treats him "normally". Getting a job seems like a good idea, and when he meets Mr. Ray while applying to work at Cluck Bucket, the man's offer of working at his funeral home sounds good. Soon, Matthew is wearing a suit to his half day of school and spending his afternoons helping out Mr. Ray. Mr. Ray has a sad back story that he doesn't tell people (which I liked!), but he shares it with Matthew, hoping it will help him. It's a good thing Mr. Ray is in the picture, since he is very helpful when Matthew's father is injured by a car while stumbling into the street drunk and is in the hospital for an extended time. Matthew attend funerals and always looks for the person closet to the deceased, the person most affected by the death. Doing this puts him in touch with Lovey, whom he had seen working at the Cluck Bucket, and the two start hanging out. Lovey has lost her mother to domestic violence, and her grandmother, but still volunteers at a homeless shelter because her grandmother would have wanted her to. The two have a light romance, and Matthew feels a little more able to deal with the death of his mother.
Strengths: It's nice to see a generally supportive community, a light romance, and a boy trying his best to grow up.
Weaknesses: On f-bomb and generally very slow. Not really objectionable for middle school, just has more of a high school feel.
What I really think: Rather slow moving and introspective for middle school, and since this author's As Brave As You has been gathering dust, I think I'll pass.

Ms. Yingling


  1. I love this thoughtful update to your review! I agree that my generation (I'm in my 40s) had much more of a "buck up" attitude than the current generation of young people. I'm not saying that's good or bad. It just is. PS--Keep speaking your truth in your reviews! I don't always agree, either, but I seek out different perspectives on books. I don't have to like a book or agree with it to buy it for my library.

  2. I agree with Leigh--please keep speaking your views in this column! The world seems to be a more dangerous place these days for those who speak honestly on any issue because someone who disagrees will attack whatever he/she says. I tend to agree with most of your thoughts since we're of the same generation but I don't think anyone would argue that life was harsher for our grandparents. Not withstanding a Great Depression and a World War, they worked harder with less compensation and fewer comforts and conveniences than we assume are normal. That's why they had to "buck up" and struggle on with their problems instead of talking about them all the time. Of course, the other side of that was this code of silence often kept them from dealing with issues but, then, do we talk about things so much now that we fail to deal with them?
    Wow, I've just set the bar pretty high for myself! Let's hope I can "buck up" and not whine all the time.