John Clark reflecting on some recent reads. One of the beauties of good fiction is its power to go beyond simply entertaining the reader. Some books have the power to stick and get readers to do some fairly serious thinking. Plenty of what I read pulls me in, gives me a fun vacation in a world created by the author and sends me on my way. A week later, I’ll struggle to remember the title. That’s not an indictment of the author by any means. I read so much that to have something stick, it’s pretty powerful.
Among the issues I’m campaigning on are immigration, gun sanity and better services for mental health and substance abuse. Three books I read last week do really good jobs of involving these concerns in their plots. I’ll start with the most affecting of them, The Lines we Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah. (Scholastic Press, 2018. ISBN 9781338118667). While it takes place in Australia, the story could as easily be set in Maine, especially Portland or Lewiston.
Michael has been coasting, content with being agreeable with his family’s obsession with anti-immigration, while hanging with friends and playing with graphic design software. Mina knows all about the immigration process. After Islamic militants shot and killed her father when he opened the door to their home in Afghanistan, she watched her baby brother died because of a lack of medical care while they were detained in a refugee camp. Her step father is in constant pain from beatings received while a prisoner of the same militants who murdered her dad. Since spending everything they had to get a frightening boat ride to Australia. Now her parents are working hard to create a new life, first by opening a restaurant, then by moving to a new neighborhood so Mina can go to a private school on scholarship and then go on to college.
When Michael sees Mina on the opposing lines at an anti immigration rally put on by his parents, he’s transfixed by her fierce gaze. When she joins his class at school, his emotions start an internal war that ultimately forces him to question not only what his parents believe, but what he believes, even to the extent of creating a family chasm. The interaction between everyone in this story is not only very realistic, it’s riveting. It’s the sort of story that can force people who have been floating along, to start questioning their own viewpoints and even rethink long held beliefs
An Na’s The Place Between Breaths (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (March 27, 2018) ISBN: 9781481422253), is short at 181 pages, but is very powerful in portraying what it’s like to descend into the madness of schizophrenia. Grace’s mother left her behind one day when she was young. Mom suffered from schizophrenia and sensed that staying might be dangerous for her daughter. Ever since, Grace’s father has been on a fanatical search for two things. To find his wife and to enable some research facility to find the holy grail-a gene that can be re-engineered to cure the illness that stole Grace’s mother.
Told from Grace’s point of view, this story requires very careful reading as the events and changes she experiences are both subtle and often clouded by her growing illness. It’s not an easy read, but well worth the time and effort to do so.
Tom Leveen’s Mercy Rule (Sky Pony Press February 20, 2018. ISBN:9781510726987). Is akin to sitting on top of a small mountain, watching various entities come closer to form a cosmic train wreck. Impossible not to watch, but with so sudden a climax that it can’t help but make you wince, it’s perhaps the best story told from multiple viewpoints I’ve ever read.
Danny was loving the creativity and freedom of the art school he was attending. Then something happened that was seen the wrong way andhis father pulled him out, forcing him to go to public school. The only saving grace was meeting Cadence, an eternally optimistic freshman, who befriended him, but couldn’t like him in a romantic sense.
Brady is a gifted quarterback whose home life alternates between a war zone and being nonexistent. All he wants is to go on to college, but first he has to survive long enough to get there. Unfortunately, he can’t refrain from inflicting his pain on others.
Coach is willing to ignore things his players do because getting to the state championship is more important.
There are connections between these characters and others that don’t become apparent until much later in the story. The author leads you through an extremely well crafted maze that sets you up to understand how and why the terrible events at the end of the story can happen and you’re likely to be emotionally invested in most of the players, strengthening the impact.