Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Grief is a Difficult Thing

While stories dealing with tragic historical events are useful in helping young readers mentally deal with the reality that bad things happen, stories dealing with young people's personal grief are a horse of a different color. Often readers find these stories--need these stories--after they have faced a very personal loss. That's a good thing, because sometimes we need to see a well-developed character work through his or her own issues before we can really confront our own. Two new titles make great additions to the myriad lists that seek to help young readers deal with the death of someone close to them.

Pitcher, Annabel. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. Little, Brown and Company. Aug. 14, 2012. p. 224.
     In this middle-grade/young adult novel by a British author, 10-year-old Jamie's life has turned totally upside down. After his older sister Rose was killed in a terrorist bombing in London five years ago, his family started to fall apart: his father began to drink a lot and became extremely xenophobic; his mother spent more and more time with Nigel from her grief group; and Rose's twin Jasmine became very insecure and introverted. When Jamie, his sister, and his father move to the Lake District after Jamie's mother leaves the family, Jamie hopes for a fresh start. Nothing really seems to have changed, however, except for the fact that Jamie makes a friend at school. There's just one problem, however: Jamie's new friend, Sunya, is Muslim, a fact that will not fly with Jamie's father since he asserts "Muslims killed his daughter." Jamie struggles not only with the death of a sister whom he barely remembers, but also with the death of his family unit as he knew it. With hope, perseverance, and a deep-seated belief that people are good, Jamie does his best to navigate his new normal with minimal help from the grown-ups in his life. The book is often heart-wrenching and always beautiful, and it will make a great resource for talking about grief as well as the recent prevalence of prejudice against Muslims.

Johnson, J.J. The Theory of Everything. Peachtree. Oct. 1, 2012. p. 320.
     Teenager Sarah was with her best friend, Jamie, when she died in a freakish accident almost a year ago. Since then, Sarah's world has been completely opposite what it was: she has not spoken to Jamie's family since the death, she fights with her own parents despite not meaning to, and the mysterious "snark box" that has replaced her mouth verbally assaults all the kids at school who would talk to her. Existence feels very difficult for Sarah despite the patience and kindness of a few people in her life, including her boyfriend. Sarah starts to make things better for herself, though, when she enters into an odd work arrangement with a loner janitor who grows Christmas trees. The physical work seems to bring Sarah some clarity, and she does her best to work through Jamie's death and reach out to those who love her and who also suffered. One such person is Emmett, Jamie's twin, whom Sarah could not previously bring herself to face. With eyes and heart truly open for the first time since Jamie's death, Sarah begins to figure out what it means to live the rest of her life. Johnson gives Sarah a remarkably poignant and real voice of a teenager going through something she never could have imagined. Doodled illustrations at the beginning of each chapter add to the great character development and make Sarah very relatable even as she lashes out at those around her. A great main character to lead a moving story.

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