Review: The Stone Girl

Welcome to The Stone Girl blog tour!

The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel. Knopf Books for Younger Readers, an imprint of Random House. 2012. Reviewed from eArc from NetGalley.

The Plot: Sarah Beth “Sethie” Weiss is a senior at the prestigious Franklin White girl’s school. She gets good grades, has a cute boyfriend, a perfect life. She is a scholarship student who works hard for it all. Working hard includes saying and doing all the right “cool” things around her boyfriend Shaw, whether it’s learning how to smoke a bong, sneaking into the empty apartment next door, or not holding his hand in public because he doesn’t like public displays of affection. Then there’s what Sethie does to make sure she looks the right way, to make sure the scale never goes above 111.

The Good: The Stone Girl is a character study: a portrait of funny, brittle, Sethie, smart in some areas, in others, not so much.

Sethie has — issues. 

Being smart does not change that she is convinced that she is one half bagel away from fat.

Being smart does doe not stop her from being blind to the truth about a boy who doesn’t want to hold her hand in public.

The outside world may see a typical New York City private school girl, thin and pretty and smart and cool. Inside, though, much more is going on.

My heart broke for Sethie; because she is so smart, and so funny, and I just wanted for her to stop her various, escalating, self-destructive behaviours. I’ll be honest: I’m hesitant to put any label on Sethie, such as anorexic or bulimic, depression or low self esteem. In addition, Sethie isn’t the most reliable narrator. There is no simple label to explain what Sethie does, what she is going through, what she feels. It’s why I see this as a detailed, intimate, emotional portrait of one girl; it’s not a problem book about a girl with an issue.

While reading The Stone Girl I dreaded just how bad it would get for Sethie and what it would take for Sethie and those around her to realize what was going on behind the perfect facade. The Stone Girl is Sethie’s descent, day by day, as things get worse and worse, as pounds go, as she discovers new ways to gain feelings of control over her life.

Sheinmel plunges the reader deeply into Sethie’s world view, yet not so deeply that the reader isn’t aware of a bigger picture than Sethie tells. Take Shaw, for instance. Here is Sethie meeting up with him after school, being the “cool” person she thinks he wants: “‘Hey kiddo,’ he says, and she stands next to him. He does not kiss her hello. He does not put an arm around her. To show she is his, she takes his cigarette from him, and takes a long drag from it.” For a few chapters, I confess that I thought she was indeed showing others this, that her friends and classmates did not kiss their significant others on the street. I believed what Sethie told me.

Everything else, particularly his failure to treat her as his girlfriend in public while he sleeps with her, screams to the reader that Shaw is not what Sethie wants him to be. However, there are other things that the reader cannot be sure of, because Sethie is so deep into her illness. Is her mother truly unaware, for instance. Is everything at school as perfect as Sethie says.

Sethie’s boyfriend does one good thing: he introduces her to Janey, who becomes her best friend. Janey may appear to be a Poor Little Rich Girl out of the pages of a gossip girl type book, with neglectful parents and plenty of spending money, but also becomes a good friend to Sethie.

Am I doing Sethie justice? I’m afraid I’m not — that this seems too dark or bleak. That Sethie seems too dark or bleak. It isn’t; there is also humor and laughter. Here is Sethie on August: “It’s the first week of September, but August hasn’t given up yet. Sethie thinks that August is like Summer’s bitter older sister — everyone looks forward to June and July, but by August, they want summer’s refreshing half-brother, September. No one longs for August by the time it rolls around. And then August doesn’t even have the good manners to leave on time. ‘Bitch,’ Sethie thinks with satisfaction.”

 There are friends and people who care about Sethie. Despite that — one of the things I loved about The Stone Girl? There is no saviour for Sethie, no new man or good girlfriend who will Save Her. The only one who can save Sethie is herself, but will she be able to?

One thing I like looking for in books: different realities being shown. Sethie is a private school girl, yes, but like the characters in Sheinmel’s earlier novels (The Beautiful Between and The Lucky Kind), it’s not the uber rich New York City, it’s one of scholarships, working parents, apartments rather than penthouses. Sethie is Jewish; and that’s another thing I like about Sheinmel’s books. They add to the diversity of books about people who are Jewish, books with people are not overly religious but who are culturally Jewish.

Because I worry about Sethie, and hope she is OK. Because Sethie’s head was a hard place to leave. Because I love Sheinmel’s writing. The Stone Girl is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: New York Times Sunday Book Review; blog tour stops; Kirkus Book Reviews.

Interview: Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Welcome to this stop in Alyssa B. Sheinmel‘s blog tour! There’s two stops here; today, an interview with Alyssa; and tomorrow, a review of The Stone Girl.

Other books by Alyssa: The Beautiful Between (2010);  The Lucky Kind (2011).

Interview:

Liz B: To begin with, I just have to say how much I adored THE STONE GIRL. Sethie – she is hauntingly real, and I still wonder about how and how things will turn out for her. Also, I am restraining myself from saying, “remember? Remember when you wrote this really awesome bit about August is like Summer’s bitter older sister? Remember that?” I also don’t want to spoil too much for someone who hasn’t yet read THE STONE GIRL.

Alyssa: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Liz B: THE STONE GIRL is a detailed, intimate look at Sethie. Sethie is smart and bright, and from the outside probably looks like she has it all, an easy life: good school, mother who loves her, boyfriend, friends. But once you look deeper, it’s not easy; it’s not simple; and it’s not even what you think, at first.  I’m hesitant to put any type of label on Sethie, to do any armchair diagnosis. She has a complex relationship with food and body image, for instance. What went into creating Sethie? What type of research did you do?

Alyssa: I often find that I begin researching a book long before I decide to write it.  I was reading about adoption, talking to friends about their experiences with it, just before I got the idea to write The Lucky Kind.  I’ve been fascinated with fairy tales and fantasy worlds my whole life, years before The Beautiful Between was even a hint of an idea. 

Eating disorders have been part of my life for a long time.  Body-obsession was a big part of my own adolescence and young-adulthood, and I spent hour after hour reading books, articles, and essays about eating disorders.  They were so endlessly interesting to me that I even wrote my senior thesis about them. 

I guess I always knew that I might end up writing a book that dealt with body-obsession in one way or another.  Honestly, I didn’t want to.  I didn’t think there was anything to say about eating disorders that hadn’t been said already, by people much more qualified than I am.  But a few years ago, an image of Sethie popped into my head, and suddenly, I knew everything about her.  And just as suddenly, I knew that one way or another, I was going to tell her story.

Liz B: THE STONE GIRL is told in third person, and it pulls the reader into the story – it’s not so much as I feel that I am Sethie, as I feel like I am Sethie’s shadow or ghost, someone there for every step yet unable to stop her. Not only is this telling Sethie’s story in third person, Sethie is an unreliable narrator! It actually took me a while to pick up on that, because it is so subtle and because, well, I liked Sethie and trusted her view. Was third person always your choice for Sethie’s story? In writing an unreliable narrator, was it difficult keeping track of what you, the author knew; what Sethie was telling the reader; and what you wanted the reader to realize before Sethie did, herself?

Alyssa: First of all, thank you so much.  I love hearing that the narrative made you feel like Sethie’s shadow or ghost – what an amazing compliment; that was exactly what I had in mind as I wrote it.  In fact, when that image of Sethie first appeared in my mind’s eye, it felt like I was watching her, floating a few feet above her head.  For me, the third person always felt like the natural way to tell Sethie’s story. 

And, I do think that there are things you can say in the third person that you can’t always say in the first – eating disorders come with some very unpleasant and occasionally graphic aspects, and I don’t know if I would have been able to write about them in the same way had the novel been in the first person.

Liz B: The level of anxiety I had as THE STONE GIRL drew towards an end was unbelievable. Honestly, the concern I felt for Sethie, and wanting her to be all right, yet so afraid for her! Did you always know how THE STONE GIRL would end, and how Sethie would get to that point?

Alyssa: I think I always knew that The Stone Girl’s ending was going to be more of a beginning than an end – in fact, the last word in the novel is actually “start.”  At the close of the novel, Sethie still has a long way to go.  We don’t know what kind of help she’s going to receive, how long it’s going to take for her to recover, whether she’ll relapse – just as she doesn’t know.  She’s still not entirely sure what it is that’s wrong with her, not entirely sure what kind of help she needs – she only knows she needs something more than what she has.

Actually, I think all of my books so far have ended similarly – both The Lucky Kind and The Beautiful Between end when the characters still have a long way to go, and a lot of work left to do.  The stories I told – that is, the novels I wrote – just got them to the point when they were ready to take those next steps.

Liz B: As I think is clear from my questions and my review, I became very invested in Sethie. She was real to me in part because her insecurities were so familiar, as were her doubts and fears. It’s pretty intense. Was it hard to walk away from Sethie and THE STONE GIRL? Do you have anything you do between putting down your pen (or, rather, closing your laptop) and rejoining the “real world”?

Alyssa: For many reasons, The Stone Girl was written in fits and spurts – partly because I wrote it while I still had a day-job (in the marketing department of Random House Children’s Books), partly because it was so challenging to write, and partly because I gave up on the story a few times along the way.  So, by the time I finished it, I had gotten used to hopping in and out of the world of the story and the “real” world. 

In the end, though, it was hard to walk away from Sethie, because I was so invested in her myself, and telling her story meant so much to me.  And, I certainly didn’t leave her in the best place – of course, part of me wanted to add that someday, she was going to be fine and happy and her body-obsession would be a memory rather than an active part of her life.  But I think the most honest way to end the novel was to leave Sethie where I did, when she still had such a long way to go, when she still had such a lot of work to do.

And, I have to admit, I was relieved when this book was finished.  Writing The Stone Girl forced me to revisit some difficult parts of my own past, so, as much as I liked Sethie, it was also something of a relief to leave the book behind. 

Liz B: Thank you so much!!

As a reminder, here is the list of other stops on the blog tour.

Author photo from author; used with permission.

The Stone Girl Blog Tour

As you may notice, I don’t usually participate in blog tours. The ones I do tend to be for authors and books I love.

This month, I’m posting as part of the blog tour for The Stone Girl, Alyssa B. Sheinmel‘s new book. I am a huge fan of Sheinmel’s writing; her use of language, the one she puts together words, leaves me marking passages left and right. The proof is in the posts: both of Sheinmel’s earlier books, The Beautiful Between and The Lucky Kind, were my favorites for that year (as is The Stone Girl); I interviewed Sheinmel last year; and I loved The Stone Girl so much that I couldn’t wait for the publication date to share it and posted a teaser for it back in April.

On August 27th, I will have an interview with Sheinmel; and on August 28th, my review.

The full schedule is at the Random House Blog, Random Buzzers.

For your convenience, here it is.

8/1 – Kick Off at AlyssaSheinmel!

8/2 – Interview & Review at Emily’s Crammed Bookshelf

8/3 – Guest Post & Giveaway at Literary Rambles

8/6 – Review at YA Romantics

8/7 – Interview at The Book Addict’s Guide

8/8 – Review at Book Club Chic

8/9 – Guest Post at A Tale of Two Bookies

8/12 – Interview at The Teen Book Guru

8/13 – Review at The Teen Book Guru

8/14 – Guest Post at Itching for Books

8/15 – Guest Post at Random Acts of Reading

8/16 – Guest Post & Giveaway at The Children’s Book Review

8/17 – Mini-Interview & Guest Post at Isabel Bandeira

8/20 – Interview at YA Romantics

8/21 – Interview at Taking It One Book at a Time

8/22 – Review & Giveaway at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

8/23 – Guest Post & Giveaway at Confessions of a Bookaholic

8/24 – Guest Post & Giveaway at The Compulsive Reader

8/27 – Interview at Almost Grown Up

8/27 – Interview at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy 

8/28 – Review at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy

8/29 – Interview at Letter Blocks

9/1 – Guest Post at Distraction No. 99

9/2 – Guest Post at Literary Escapism

9/3 – Guest Post at Dear Teen Me

Interview with Alyssa B. Sheinmel for the Summer Blog Blast Tour

Welcome to day 5 of the 2011 Summer Blog Blast Tour!

Today we have Alyssa B. Sheinmel, author of two of my favorite books, The Lucky Kind (Knopf, 2011) and The Beautiful Between (Knopf, 2010).

From my review of The Lucky Kind: “Nick Brandt, 16, doesn’t know that answering the phone will shake up his world. A strange man asks for “Sheffman Brandt,” knowing Nick’s father’s name but not knowing he goes by Rob, his middle name. A stranger, whose call upsets the tight, close world of Nick and his parents. The man calling is Sam Roth. As Rob Brandt later explains to Nick, thirty years ago Rob had a son who was given up for adoption. Sam is that child. His father had a child, a child given up for adoption, and Nick never knew. His parents never told him.”

Liz B: I adored The Lucky Kind!  I loved Nick and his family, and could easily see how and why both Stevie and Eden are attracted to how stable and typical they appear.  What inspired The Lucky Kind?

Sheinmel: Well, first of all, thank you!  The idea for The Lucky Kind came to me when I found myself giving adoption thought in a way I never had before.  Up until a few years ago, I’d gone most of my life without being personally touched by adoption (as far as I know). Seemingly all at once, I became close with several people who’d been adopted, and a dear friend confided to having given up a child for adoption. Adoption became something I couldn’t stop thinking about, and I knew it was only a matter of time before it became something I would write about.

Nick’s father gave a child up for adoption, and that impacts his current family. What research do you do about adoption and adoptees and birth families?

After I learned about my friends’ experiences on both sides of adoption, I began to think about it a lot. Two of the adopted adults that I’d met had no interest in finding their birth parents. I wondered how I would feel, had I been adopted; I honestly don’t know.  I can imagine feeling both ways about it: wanting to know from where I came; wanting to know if I looked like my birth parents; wanting to develop a relationship with the people who gave me the life I came to have. And yet, I can also imagine the opposite feeling: not wanting to meet the people who didn’t want me; not wanting to hurt the feelings of my adoptive parents by somehow suggesting that I needed something more than they could give me.

Around that same time, I read an unforgettable book called The Girls Who Went Away, about women who’d been essentially forced to give up their children for adoption in the years before the Roe vs. Wade decision. The book spoke to the long-term effects that giving up these babies had had on the women who bore them, and on their families, years later. It was heartbreaking and deeply moving; I couldn’t put the book down. But I was also struck by the fact that mostly the birth mothers’ stories were told. The biological fathers were barely mentioned. I began to wonder about the effects that giving up children for adoption had on fathers; surely some of these fathers were every bit as deeply touched by the experience as the mothers had been.

And I thought, most of all, about my friend who’d given up a child for adoption. My thoughts were often not about the baby who had been given up, but about the family my friend was going to go on to have someday. I couldn’t stop thinking about that future family—that spouse, those children—and the impact that an adoption that had taken place so many years earlier might have on that future family. I couldn’t get that idea out of my head, and that’s where the story for The Lucky Kind began.

Liz B: When rereading The Lucky Kind, I was impressed with the structure.  While the book takes place in the months after Sam Roth’s phone call, you also showed the reader what Nick’s family was like before so that the reader could appreciate the small but significant changes that went on in Nick’s world as he dealt with his new world view.  I’m curious, especially because of the layers within it, whether your writing style is one of outlining or plunging forward?

Sheinmel: Somewhere in between.  I don’t outline, but I make a lot of notes both before I begin and as I write the story.  I usually have a pretty good sense of where my story is going to go, and how it’s going to get there.  (At least, I think I do.  Occasionally, a story can take on a life of its own!)  I did, at one point, put The Lucky Kind aside to try to write something else; but I kept coming back to Nick and his family. 

Liz B: As with The Beautiful Between, I adored the writing and descriptions. As you can tell by my outline question, I’m fascinated by how writers work and what goes into their craft. How would you describe your process? Are you an early morning writer, late at night, or weekends?

Sheinmel: Well, thank you again!  Because I have a day job, writing for me is mostly an evenings and weekends activity. I’m much, much more of a morning person than an evening person, so my most productive writing time is probably Saturday and Sunday mornings.    And, I actually come up with a lot of story ideas, and with a lot of phrases and plot points, when I’m on the subway to and from my day job.  I’m constantly making frantic notes in between stops.

My writing process is definitely still a work-in-progress in and of itself.  So far, I’ve written each of my books a little differently than the last.  I’d like to think that my process won’t ever stop developing; I hope that I learn something more about how to write every time I put pencil to page (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be!).

Liz B: Any special music?

Sheinmel: Nope.  I can’t listen to music while I write; I get much too distracted.  I like to have my narrator’s voice in my head when I write, even when I’m writing in the third person.  With music on, I end up with the musician’s voice in my head. 

Liz B: Was The Lucky Kind always the title?

Yes, although I didn’t know it until I was about halfway through my first draft.  But as soon as that phrase popped up in the dialogue between Eden and Stevie and Nick, I knew I’d found my title.

Liz B: Both The Lucky Kind and The Beautiful Between share a New York City setting. When I began reading The Lucky Kind, I wondered if Nick and Eden went to the same school as Connolly and Jeremy (from The Beautiful Between) but then saw that they don’t, so I wondered if maybe they went to the same parties. New York City is almost another character, but not the rich, privileged, trendy, version of New York that appears in shows like Gossip Girl.  Why New York City?

Sheinmel: I’m a big fan of writing what you know—or at least, writing some of what you know – so I always try to ground my stories in real details.  For me, that meant placing The Lucky Kind in New York City.  That’s where I went to high school, and those are the restaurants and movie theaters that I grew up going to, the subway I grew up taking, the streets I walked with my friends.  That’s not to say I’d never write a book that takes place anywhere else.  (I hope that I will!)  But New York seemed like the natural setting for this story.

And, I’ve definitely thought that even though Nick and Connelly don’t go to the same schools, they bump into each other at inter-school parties and events from time to time!  I like to think that they might know each other, at least as vague acquaintances.

Liz B: What are you working on now?

Sheinmel: I’m a little superstitious about talking what I’m working on.  When I began writing, I wouldn’t even admit that I was working on anything at all!  (My husband used to see me working at the computer, and I’d insist I was just shopping online.)  Now, I’ll admit when I’m writing—but I still don’t like to talk about any new project until it’s really taken shape.

Liz B: What is your next book?

Sheinmel: Thank you for asking!  My third book is called The Stone Girl, and it’s publishing in August 2012.  It’s a bit different from my previous books – it’s in the third person, which is a first for me, and it’s a bit darker than either The Beautiful Between or The Lucky Kind.  It’s about a very troubled girl named Sethie, a character I loved so much that I wanted to protect her, even as I created and wrote the difficult things she experiences over the course of the novel.  The Stone Girl means so much to me, and I can’t wait to hear what readers will have to say about it.

Liz B: Thank you!

Remember, Chasing Ray has links for the other interviews in today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour

Genevieve Valentine at Shaken & Stirred
Stacy Whitman at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer at Mother Reader

Review: The Lucky Kind

The Lucky Kind by Alyssa B. Sheinmel. Knopf, an imprint of Random House. 2011. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Nick Brandt, 16, doesn’t know that answering the phone will shake up his world. A strange man asks for “Sheffman Brandt,” knowing Nick’s father’s name but not knowing he goes by Rob, his middle name. A stranger, whose call upsets the tight, close world of Nick and his parents. The man calling is Sam Roth. As Rob Brandt later explains to Nick, thirty years ago Rob had a son who was given up for adoption. Sam is that child.

His father had a child, a child given up for adoption, and Nick never knew. His parents never told him.

The Good: Like last year’s The Beautiful Between, The Lucky Kind is a wonderfully quiet book. The plot above sounds way too “ripped from the headlines,” and The Lucky Kind is the opposite of that. It’s a look at Nick and his family and friends over several months, as Nick adjusts to the knowledge of his father’s past and the secrecy surrounding it.

Nick’s life up until that point was charmed — lucky, even. He has a wonderful family (put Rob and Nina down in the “pretty great parents in a YA book” category), he lives in a nice apartment in Manhattan (average by Manhattan standards, not richy rich), he has a great best friend, Stevie, and a girl, Eden Reiss, who he’s been crushing on for years. Seriously, any reader would want to have Nick’s life. The phone call from Sam Roth shatters all that — but only in Nick’s head, because it shatters how Nick sees his life and those around him. Sam and his existence represent numerous betrayals and secrets: that his father had another child. That his father gave that child up for adoption. That his father put his name on a registry indicating he would want contact with that child, should the child wish. That his father and mother both knew all this, and never told Nick.

What does Nick do? And here is one of the reasons I adore this book, and Sheinmel’s writing and choices. This is not “and then the disillusioned teen drugged, drank, and violently acted out in all sorts of gritty ways.” No! This is much more true to life, much more real. One of the first things Nick does? Nick finally gets the nerve up to call Eden Reiss on the telephone. Yes. That is the first thing. Nick and Eden begin dating. He loves her. Here is Nick, when he knows he will be kissing Eden for the first time: “I walk Eden to the subway, and the whole walk there, I know I’m going to kiss her good-bye, and I know she’s going to kiss me back. I feel the kiss coming up from my stomach, as though that’s where every kiss originates, waiting in your belly, growing stronger as it climbs up your rib cage, fluttering a bit when it passes your heart, and waiting, patiently in your throat, until you tilt your head and move your lips, and it knows it’s time to come out from inside you.” You can practically hear the giddiness and joy in his voice the first time he calls Eden “my girlfriend.”

Over the next few months, Nick’s acts of rebellion are so subtle that I dare not call it rebellion, yet so significant that I have to call it something. Nick reacts by beginning to distance himself emotionally from his parents. It would be easy to want to create a physical acting out on behalf of Nick, to dramatize that acting out, but Sheinmel doesn’t take the easy way out. Instead, she does it by showing the conversations that don’t happen. For example, Eden? The amazing Eden who has made Nick so happy? Who Nick truly cares about? Nick doesn’t tell his parents about her. He doesn’t do it on purpose; and he tells himself it’s because he wants to keep it just the two of them, Eden and Nick. The reader, though, will realize that Nick has decided to keep a secret from his parents just like his parents kept a secret from him.

Nick’s struggles with the change in his family, or, rather, with his having to adjust to new information about his family, impact those around him. Part of the joy of The Lucky Kind is that because Nick has family and friends who are loving and supportive, they are able to give him what he needs during these months. No, they aren’t perfect; it is better than that, in that they are understanding and forgiving. Nick’s growth and coming of age is about how he, too, becomes understanding and forgiving. How he, too, earns the right to be one of “the lucky kind,” and learns that being “the lucky kind” isn’t about what one is given but rather what happens because of the choices one makes.

Because this is a book that rang so true. Because I love Nick and his family. Because Nick and Eden are a terrific couple. Because I felt as if I slipped into Nick’s life for a few months. Because the writing is so true and pure and strong. The Lucky Kind is one of my Favorite Books Read in 2011. 

Review: The Beautiful Between

The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel. Knopf, an imprint of Random House. 2010.

The Plot: Connelly Sternin, a junior, looks around her high school and sees it, her life, as a fairy tale. Connelly is Rapunzel, living in a Manhattan high rise, hiding behind studying and SAT Prep. She keeps herself isolated, not just because she is absorbed in studies, but also because she has created a barrier, a lie. The school thinks her parents are divorced and her absent father lives in Arizona. Instead, he is dead. Connelly was two at the time and doesn’t even know how he died.

 Jeremy Cole is the crown prince, rich, athletic, popular. One day he sits at her lunch table, talks to her, asks to study with her. Why has the prince noticed a commoner? It turns out Connelly and Jeremy have something in common. Jeremy’s life isn’t so perfect.

Slowly, a friendship develops. But can Rapunzel  leave the safety of her tower?

The Good:  The Beautiful Between? Try The Beautifully Written Book I Am In Awe Of.

In the best possible way, The Beautiful Between is a quiet book. Connelly is friendly but without friends. Then Jeremy sits down. At her table.

It feels like the chatter in the cafeteria has gone quiet and everyone is listening to us. Which, by the way, isn’t entirely beyond reality, because people are always watching Jeremy Cole. . . . “Sternin, really.” And I melt because he’s calling me Sternin again. His hand on my arm doesn’t hurt his case either. I can actually feel the little hairs tingling.

Yes, she has a bit of a crush on Jeremy but who wouldn’t? He’s handsome, smart, funny, nice.  He could have anything. Why is he approaching her? He says, “I’ll tutor you in physics, you help me with SAT vocabulary,” but c’mon! His family could afford an army of tutors. Since he could have any girl he wants, there is no reason for Jeremy to make up a reason to talk to a girl.

Turns out, there is a reason Jeremy is reaching out to Connelly. And it’s not help with his vocabulary. Instead, he thinks Connelly can help him with something. In reaching out to Connelly, he unintentionally rips a scab off a long ago wound.

I don’t want to go spoilery about why Jeremy reaches out to Connelly; in a way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Jeremy and Connelly develop a beautiful, real, true friendship. They become each other’s best friend; and it’s a friendship that develops not from a Grand Movie Experience, but from the small building blocks of friendship: talk, spending time together, being accepting, helping, knowing when to be quiet and when to speak up. And forgiving when a person doesn’t. In this way, it’s a quiet book. No vampires. No road trips. No ghosts.

This is Connelly’s story, and her layers and hurt she cannot name are poignantly drawn. Jeremy is shown through her eyes; he is and remains a crown prince. So softly that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint, their relationship shifts from acquaintances to friends.

Part of what I loved about Sheinmel’s writing – other than the writing and the characters – is she doesn’t tell everything. Some things remain unknown. It’s real, yet also risky, because some readers demand full answers.

What else? I love that Jeremy and Connelly bond over smoking! Talk about the last taboo in young adult literature! Such a wonderful detail –and so revealing of Jeremy’s personality, and Connelly’s character, and really nothing else could substitute for it. Another thing. Confession: I can get really annoyed at rich kids in books. No, really! I sometimes think “oh, get a real problem, Ritchie Rich!” Not once did I think that, ever, even as Connelly’s mother lived comfortably without ever working, or Jeremy’s family out-trumped the Trumps.

Another thing! Jeremy and Connelly are Jewish. The book isn’t about being Jewish; it’s not something that would catch the eye of any cataloguer. It’s for those readers who are looking for books where the teens just happen to be Jewish, in the same casual, comfortable way that so many books have people who just happen to be Christian.

Because weeks after I read it, I was still haunted by Connelly, Jeremy, and Sheinmel’s writing, this becomes a Favorite Book Read in 2010.