Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

“He whispers, ‘Want to hear a secret?’

I nod.

‘You’re safe with me anywhere, at all times.’

It turns out, our ‘anywhere’ is the basement, and our ‘at all times’ is the entire day.  We don’t go to school.  We play checkers and make out.  My parents are upstairs watching the news.  And even though it feels like the entire world is freaking out, and even though the entire world is really just our area, and no one else anywhere gives a shit, and they definitely don’t give a shit that there are two boys making out in a basement, that’s what we are, we keep doing it, and there is something sort of beautiful about the fact that we keep doing that even now that we know it’s not what the world is about.

If I could take all the machine guns in the world and bend them into hearts, I totally totally would, even if I got grazed by bullets in the process, which knowing me I probably would, because I’m a little bit of a klutz, but Lio thinks I’m cute.”

A year after 9/11, a sniper is targeting inhabitants of the D.C. area.  Parents are keeping children home from school, and people hurry to their cars after leaving the grocery store or bank.  Everyone is uneasy, hunkered down and hoping for the threat to pass and leave loved one unharmed.  In the midst of it all, Craig and Lio find each other.  Craig’s exuberant nature and generosity help Lio forget about his dead twin, the specter of cancer that still haunts him, and his estranged mother.  Reflective, calm Lio patiently searches the entire city for Craig’s lost menagerie, a motley collection of pets that escaped during a break-in earlier in the year.  However, both boys are frightened and have suffered great losses in their past; being vulnerable is a true challenge for the pair, especially during such frightening times.

This is a story about untidy, realistic love in an unpredictable world.  In that aspect, I feel like it is an incarnation of Every Story Ever Told, and I love Hannah Moskowitz for it.  The text is full of sad-sweet details that instantly disarm the reader, such as Lio’s patchwork-dyed, multicolored hair.  Instead of maintaining such an off-putting hairstyle out of rebellion, Lio does it because he does not want to look like his twin, who died of cancer.  Craig’s big brother still lives at home, quietly working the night shift at a suicide hotline and looking after the family.  Details like that give the story depth, without feeling manipulative or precious.  As Lio and Craig negotiate their various issues against a backdrop of a world that seems to have lost all sense, a quiet optimism emerges in the text.  Yes, the book seems to say, the world is awful sometimes, and our families and loved ones aren’t always what we hope. But somehow it is going to be ok.

I loved this book for several important reasons, but the primary one is the author’s treatment of ethnicity and queerness.  This is a post-race, post-queer book, in which there is no need for coming out, and the characters’ ethnicities are mentioned only briefly and in passing.  This is not a story about an African-American character falling in love with a Caucasian character, nor a story about a gay boy who falls in love with another gay boy.  Instead, it’s just about love.  Furthermore, the book acknowledges something that adults often find uncomfortable: the  depth and intensity of feelings young people experience.  The story affords young readers dignity, validating their relationships and emotions, and I like that very much.

Oh, please read this! It’s such a beautiful and tender story. I really think you’ll like it!

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.untilhannah.com/

Moskowitz, Hannah. Gone, Gone, Gone. Simon Pulse: New York, 2012. 251 pp. Ages 15 and up.

You might also want to try Brooklyn, Burning, With or Without You or The Perks of Being a WallflowerThey have queer content and also the same “feel” to them!

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Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

“We held hands when we walked down the gingerbread path into the forest, blood dripping from our fingers.  We danced with witches and kissed monsters.  We turned us into wintergirls, and when she tried to leave, I pulled her back into the snow because I was afraid to be alone.”

I debated whether to review this book or not.  I’m still not sure if I’ll leave this post up, or take it down in a few days.  The problem with books covering eating disorders is that a lot of readers migrate to them for their triggering effects, to garner the strength to continue their disordered eating patterns.  I know; I was there.  I lost seven years of my life to it.  I know the books well.  And readers who are seeking this book to further their illness will find it anyway, with or without my review.

This raw, challenging story relates Lia’s struggle with an eating disorder.  Her best friend, Cassie, recently died alone in a hotel room, a victim of a ruptured esophagus brought about by bulimia.  Both girls suffered from eating disorders, and perversely encouraged the behavior in each other.  Now Lia is haunted by Cassie’s ghost, who continues to encourage her in her downward spiral.  On the night of her death, Cassie called Lia thirty-three times, but Lia didn’t pick up, and now the guilt is destroying her.  Lia starves, fights with her family, stays awake miserably at night, trying to stave off Cassie’s image in her mind.  It’s not pretty.

But, with Laurie Halse Anderson’s storytelling prowess, it is skillfully and mesmerizingly told.  I’m reviewing the book because I think it’s different from other eating disorder stories, in that she focuses much more on the mental processes involved with anorexia, as opposed to a triggering recitation of calorie counts and weights.  While those elements are certainly present in the story, the majority of the text is consumed with Lia’s tortured mental machinations, and readers are transported into the nightmarish territory of her brain.

Blank pages, pages of orders that Lia gives herself, such as “Must. Not. Eat” repeated over and over, and her actual thoughts (scratched out in the text, but still legible), followed by what she feels she must think, all combine to create a very realistic portrait of the despair of grief and starvation, without glorifying it.  Like I said, I’ve been there.  It’s not a pretty place, and Anderson is clear with the message.   While I am still ambivalent about the subject matter, because I know it is so often misused by those struggling with similar issues, I am reviewing it because Laurie Halse Anderson is a master storyteller, and this is an excellently written book, that (to me), was careful to avoid exalting the illness.

It ain’t pretty, but it rings pretty true.

Happy Reading! (Actually, with this book, I feel like I can’t really say that, so I’ll amend to: Read it if you must, because it’s the best of all the books out there when it comes to a realistic portrayal of an eating disorder.)

I’d like to close with a quote from another reviewer, Jezebel: “Read without discussion or supervision, Wintergirls could indeed be triggering. But read as part of a conversation — or, perhaps, read by parents and other family members — the book could help make some teens’ worlds a little less dark”.

Author’s website: http://madwomanintheforest.com/

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls. Penguin Books: New York, 2009. 278 pp. Grades 10-12.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

“Was everyone playing a trick on me? Of course numbers had colors.  Were they also going to tell me that letters and sounds didn’t have colors? That the letter a wasn’t yellow like a faded sunflower and screeching chalk didn’t make red jagged lines in the air?”

Mia sees the world differently than most people.  She has a rare condition called synesthesia, which is a disorder that involves the brain’s processing of sensory information.  For Mia, letters, words, numbers, and some sounds have their own colors.  For example, her name is candy-apple red with a touch of avocado green.  However, after the episode in the quote, where she realizes that her other classmates don’t see the colors that she does, she keeps her condition a secret, even from her parents.

Aside from her condition, Mia lives the life of an ordinary thirteen-year-old.  She loves her cat, Mango, and spends a lot of time squabbling with her siblings.  She forgets homework assignments and disagrees with her friends.  She worries about fitting in.  Through all of this, she deals with algebra problems that don’t make sense and bad Spanish grades.  It’s pretty typical stuff, just with extra colors.  I especially enjoyed her experiences with acupuncture (it really intensified her synesthesia) and her developing relationship with Roger.

Spoiler alert:  Mango dies near the end of the novel, and a lot of space is devoted to how she processes grief.   Because of her extreme sadness, she temporarily loses her synesthesia.  I was more emotional than I thought I’d be when I read that part, and anyone who has ever lost a pet will understand.

This is a calm story about a girl with an interesting condition.  It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it’s very pleasant.  Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.wendymass.com/

Mass, Wendy.  A Mango-Shaped Space. New York: Little, Brown & Co, 2003. 224 pp. Grades 5-8.