Wednesday, September 5, 2007

This is What I Did: by Ann Dee Ellis

I did it. I read a book that isn't from an author I already know. Lately I've been so concerned about staying on top of my ARC list that I've neglected the new books that have been coming into my library. Forgivable, but I am shaking my finger at myself.

I was reading BCCB (Sept 07 issue) yesterday at work when one of the recommended books made me dash to my preshelving (not yet in the catalog) and grab said book in a quick "ah ha!" movement. I checked it in and then immediately checked it out to myself. Here is where I give another tip-o-the-hat to Patti, our collections librarian: This is one of the best books I have read this year.

Significant portions of the story are written in dialogue. This makes for a slim 157 pages (yeah!) and a brisk read (woot!). Like many other novels in dialogue, it should be accessible to students who balk at the prospect of the standard prose novel with dense paragraphs and small print. My other favorite formatting choice is the addition of silhouette icons that punctuate changes in scene. A fly, a pregnant woman, a ladder, a tree, a star w/ a rat, and something that I thought was an upside-down jelly fish but is really a campfire. Last night I couldn't figure it out, but checking just now I realize, duh, campfire.

This is a very strong first novel. It is poignant and heartbreaking, victorious and silly. The characters are smartly crafted and entirely believable. Sophisticated readers will see the peeks of hope & a promise of a positive ending early on. But it won't dampen the novel's impact because the author competently manages a climatic revelation that still leaves many unknowns.

Tough kid Zyler and quite kid Logan became best friends after being paired together for a 4th grade project. Zyler goes up to Logan and asks what they should do their project on.

Me: I don't know.
Zyler: What about on the Japanese samurai?
We were best friends ever since.
Logan's family moved to another part of town after Logan witnessed a horrific event between Zyler, the "girl next door" of their affections-Cami, and Zyler's abusive father. He no longer has contact with Zyler or Cami and has become the 8th grade boy embodiment of monumental sadness and debilitating regret. His pain is tangible and this is where the sparse text & dialogue format shine as the perfect modes of delivery for his story.

While Logan is in a new neighborhood with a new school, the event of his past follows him via gossip chains and school board eavesdropping hearsay. He quickly gets a reputation at school as a molester and the bullies make every effort to terrorize him. Case in point: he gets the nickname "Crapstock" as in not being of the supposed good/cool stock. [I admit this is clever and made me chuckle.]

The hope that is waiting for Logan comes through the characters of a counselor (of whom we don't see too much, but what we do is effective), loving parents, and a wonderfully odd little duck called Laurel, who writes palindrome notes to Logan and shares my big love for corn dogs. There's a revelatory moment late in the book in which Logan defends the worst bully and which should remind readers that bullies aren't born that way - they are made. While abuse and bullying are important themes, I hope readers will connect with Logan's physical and emotional paralysis to help himself and his friends, and the painful consequences that Logan lives with afterwards.

Every middle school library should have this book.

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