Sunday, March 06, 2022

In Honor of Broken Things

Acampora, Paul. In Honor of Broken Things
March 8th 2022 by Dial Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the West Beacon suburb of Philadelphia, we meet three disaparate students at the combined junior/senior high, all of whom have their own problems. Oscar's younger sister Carmen has just died after a long bout with cancer, and he's having trouble going back to school. He's a good football player, and the school has lost a couple of games in his absence, so the principal is hoping he will return to the field soon. Noah is just starting at the school after years of being homeschooled, in the wake of his father moving out. He is much smaller than Oscar, but excels in all of his academics. Riley is also new to the school, having left inner city Philadelphia after her mother, a waitress, was held up at gunpoint at work. The two have moved to be near Riley's uncle, who is the priest at the local Catholic church that Oscar and Noah attend. The three meet in an art class, where they are working with clay. Noah's parents are both potters and ran a business out of their garage, which is struggling since his mother is not dealing well with the breakup of her marriage. Oscar has a surprisingly deft hand, and Riley struggles with the most basic details, but they all try hard to come up with a project for a school showcase. They also find support from each other at a time when they desperately need it, and their paths cross in odd ways. Riley's mother, while fighting with Riley, manages to hit Oscar with her car in the parking lot of school. Oscar has run out of class, where they were making Day of the Dead decorations, and he just couldn't handle it. Noah blames himself for the accident, since he was yelling at Oscar. Oscar isn't badly hurt, but cannot play football for a while, and it is eventually discovered that a more lasting injury to his hip that will keep him from playing was caused by the sport itself. Since football was Oscar's ticket to college and away from the pretzel factory where his parents work, he has to recalibrate his dreams. Luckily, he has new friends to help him. 
Strengths: West Beacon is so well described that I felt like I was right there! I loved the school, and especially the church and Riley's uncle. I don't know how many students spend time in church these days, but I spent a LOT of time at church in middle school. Bonus points that the characters were all at the older end of middle grade. There was just enough input from the adults in the book, from the understanding school secretary and art teacher to the four struggling parents of the children. The creation of art and the theory behind it is something we don't see often in middle grade books and was a good inclusion, and having football in any book is a plus. Oscar's grief over his sister is well portrayed-- it's very fresh, and he's struggling, but he is trying to continue on with his life while trying to keep memories of Carmen alive. 
Weaknesses: There are two sides to the argument about characters with trauma-- one is that students who are experiencing trauma themselves will be glad to see these experiences, and the other side is that students experiencing trauma might need a more pleasant break from reality. This is important, since so many people right now are feeling the effects of trauma. I tend toward the side of a pleasant break, but I know that I am in the minority with this view. 
What I really think: One of my recent favorites was Acampora's Danny Constantino's First Date, and my students ask more for upbeat books like that one. Confusion is Nothing New, How to Avoid Extinction, and Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face are all titles every middle school library should have. This is a bit more along the lines of I Kill the Mockingbird, which teachers and librarians adore, but I wasn't as keen on. Part of my lukewarm feeling about this might be because on the day I read it, Oscar's deceased sister joined four deceased parents (one whose death was graphically depicted) and two other siblings who had passed away in the books I read. It was a lot for one Sunday! 

1 comment:

  1. This does sound good although at that age I would probably not have picked up a book about three boys unless there was hockey in it, which was one of my passions.