Friday, March 28, 2008

Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr


Sweethearts reminded me a bit of Fighting For Ruben Wolfe and I Am the Messenger, because it felt much more mature than lots of young adult literature; right at that crossroads into adult fiction. It wasn't mature because of any explicit content. It was the particular types of problems and the way the characters responded to things. It was all more on the adult side of the adolescent galaxy, the side where questions can stay open, where people are impossibly complex, and where resolutions aren't tidy.

This is a story about a girl and boy who were best friends in late elementary school. They were both the "losers" of the class and had a very deep and tremendously strong bond. Cameron disappears one day and Jennifer, who later turns herself into Jenna, has to figure out how to go on without him. She ends up abandoning the self she was at that time of her life and when Cameron shows up again when she's seventeen, Jennifer/Jenna has to figure out how to honor both their friendship and the little girl she tried so hard to bury.

This was a great read. Not really for most middle-schoolers, though. I just don't think they'd really get it. Also, I hate the cover. It doesn't even begin to represent anything meaningful about the story.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dear Kadir Nelson

Mr. Nelson, if you're out there, I really want to tell you about this kid I love.

He lives in the homeless shelter in Salt Lake City. He has a really rough home life. Dad's in jail. Mom's on drugs. This year, by some amazing graceful miracle, this ten-year-old has learned to LOVE books. I think reading has become his refuge. First, he read and took very good care of my precious, signed copy of Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, by Walter Dean Myers. It took him five minutes to read each page back in September, but he was so determined to read that book. Finishing it took him about six weeks. In December he discovered Darren Shan and has since read every single Cirque Du Freak and Demonata book.

Last week I handed him We Are the Ship and he carries it around school and back and forth to the shelter like it's a million dollar prize. He comes up and shows me the illustrations and stories and can barely contain his admiration for those players. His is a fierce admiration that is settling into the deep roots of his tender little soul.

I can only speculate here, but this is what I believe: I believe those stories, of determination and triumph in the face of horrible adversity and discrimination will give this kid deeper wells of strength than any other forms of "help" that I can imagine.

Teaching kids with such steep slopes all around them can sometimes be very difficult work, but with books like yours and children like this one, I consider it a great privilege to be working out in the trenches.

From the very bottom of my heart: THANK YOU!!!

(This true story/letter actually started out as a comment at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.)