"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
This is one of those books I wouldn't have read on my own but that ended up to be a worthwhile read nonetheless. It starts out a little slow and ends feeling a bit overpacked and jumbled, but has a long, satisfying stretch of "middle" inbetween.
The voice is what makes this book shine. Gary Schmidt may have believably captured the voice of a disaffected, "at-risk" adolescent boy during one pivotal year better than anyone else I've ever encountered. The telling of his story oozes with cynicism covering up the deep-rooted desire for a reason to hope. The small and big betrayals he encounters will make your gut clench; the small victories bring tears to your eyes. This protagonist has an uphill battle -- he lives with an abusive father, a cowed mother, one brother who is condescending and another who is physically and emotionally scarred by Vietnam. He can't read and can also no longer hide it. He wants to draw but is thwarted by his brother and father's opinion of him. Still, through it all shimmers a ray of hope that is shining brightly by the end.
The relationship between Douglas and his father is one of the most painful parts of the book. Schmidt perfectly captures his abusive personality, which is clearly deeply rooted in insecurity, immaturity, and unhappiness. Many of us, unfortunately, have encountered people like this -- and Schmidt makes it so real.
A few aspects near the end strained believability to me, particularly surrounding the production of the Jane Eyre play, as well as a few characters' changes of heart. Still, that is probably better than ending the book on the same dire notes on which it started, and for the most part, these are flaws I'm willing to forgive.
The audio version is fantastic -- I once heard Gary Schmidt speak and admit that much of this book is autobiographical (heartbreaking), and the author's voice reminds me a lot of what it might sound like in Gary Schmidt's own voice. The perfect choice.