Andrew Smith, Book Review, Brothers, Fiction, Young Adult

In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith

Plot/Story:

Sixteen-year-old Jonah and his fourteen-year-old brother Simon are abandoned by their mother, left in their house without food, running water, or electricity. Their eldest brother is serving in Vietnam, with plans to return home soon, but they haven’t heard from him in months. The brothers soon realize that they have little chance of surviving on their own; so, with ten dollars and some spare clothes, they leave their New Mexico home and head west towards Yuma, Arizona, where their father is incarcerated and soon to be released. Not too far into their journey, the horse they have been riding on dies, so they are forced to make the rest of the journey on foot. At least, that’s what they should have done. Instead, brash Simon, never one to heed his older brother’s warnings, hails down a passing car which is being driven by an unlikely and unsavory pair, a sociopathic man and a pregnant teenage girl. At first glance, the man and the beautiful young girl seem like a couple of unlikely heroes. The boys soon realize, though, that their would-be hero is not what he appears. He has buckets of cash littering the trunk of his car. There’s a stolen Don Quixote statue in the backseat. Oh, and he also has a gun. But he’s not the only one packing heat. The question is: who will use his gun first, and why?


Characterization:

There are some ups and downs with characterization and character development. Some of the characters are well-developed and complex, particularly Mitch, the sociopath, and Matt, the eldest brother. The small glimpses into Mitch’s darker persona are spaced well and provide tantalizing precursors to the larger melt-down, which readers will anticipate but not be disappointed by when it finally arrives. Witnessing the boys’ elder brother’s descent into madness, caused by the horrors he is exposed to in Vietnam, is also intriguing; it adds complexity and character to the story’s sub-plot. I found Jonah, Simon, and Lilly less interesting, though they were the characters that received the most page time. Jonah’s deep, almost paralyzing infatuation with the girl comes about so quickly and without much explanation, making it difficult to believe (aside from a “teenage hormone” perspective). Simon’s anger toward his older brother is also near-immediately apparent, but it is there with little explanation or cause (Jonah seems like a decent guy and hasn’t done anything, that we know of, to make Simon mad at him). There’s the underlying “sibling rivalry” theme which works, of course, but the level of animosity the brothers have toward each other, particularly Simon toward Jonah, doesn’t really fit a “that’s what brothers do” kind of equation. We learn, later in the story, that there has always been conflict but developing that sooner, rather than forcing it to be assumed, could have helped the overall narrative. Still, the brothers’ relationship is engaging, tense and passionate, and ultimately resolved.       


Prose/Style:

The book is formatted as a third-person omniscient narration, but not really. It’s essentially from Jonah’s perspective, written after he has gained facts about events which he could not have witnessed in person, as well as narrating those events which he did witness first-hand. So, the feel of the narration is third-person omniscient because there is little question that everything written down has actually happened but, in actuality, the narration is limited. Because the portions of the novel pertaining to Matt, who is not physically present in the story, are written in epistolary form, Smith is able to get away with this somewhat; however, for the portions witnessed by Simon, Mitch or other characters, one does need to suspend analysis a bit and just let the story flow in order to enjoy it. Chapters are often headed with a character’s name, such as “Simon,” which helps the reader follow-along with who is saying what, when (although, ultimately, the entire story is Jonah’s map/journal).  Aside from the somewhat strange structure, I definitely enjoyed the language and the prose – both of which were appropriate to the age level and well-suited to the setting of the story and its tone. The pace is deliciously suspenseful, building slowly but with an almost liquid fluidity, like a syrupy trail winding its way through the desert: sticky, sweet, rich, and satisfying.      


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

One of the strangest things about the book is that it is difficult to completely like or completely hate any one of its characters (and this, incidentally, is one of the best things writers can do for their stories, in my opinion). There are complexities of personality – inner demons and better angels- associated with each of the characters, and it is up to the reader to practice compassion and understanding when dealing with them, particularly with the protagonist(s). Jonah, the narrator and main character, is not a typical hero. Mitch, the antagonist, is vile but also quite sad. Lilly is tragically desperate, seeking shelter wherever she can find it, with little concern for what it costs her. Simon is angry, tired of being treated like a child but not wholly prepared for the adult world he’s been thrust into, head-first. The book is about family and survival, it is about making difficult choices, sometimes between the lesser of two evils, and oftentimes it is about finding out how to recover after having made the wrong choices.   


Excerpt:

I pictured the first time we saw the girl, breezing past us in that Lincoln, blond hair whirling around her, her glasses tipped down, her smile, the stroke of her fingers. The teasing.

Simon tumbled the meteorite around in the sweat of his hand. I wondered what it would be like to look down at the earth, to fall, to burn brilliantly in the air like the image of the girl who passed by, kicking back dust like cosmic ash, and could she see that, now; was she up there above us?

I wondered.

We closed our eyes.

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Andrew Smith, Book Review, Brothers, Coming-of-Age, Family, Gay Lit, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, GLBT, Monthly Review, Young Adult

Review: Stick by Andrew Smith

Stick by Andrew Smith
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0
YTD: 23

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful

Andrew Smith’s Stick is a powerful story about love and brotherhood.  Not since Brothers by Ted van Lieshout has there been such a touching, personal, and believable story about the bond between teenage brothers.  Stark (Stick) and his elder brother Bosten both have their individual burdens to bear, but they also must both fight the same battle against an abusive father and an unkind, dispassionate mother.  The main character, Stick, was born with a facial disfigurement, which has left him scarred physically and emotionally for most of his life.  It has caused him to believe that he is a disappointment to his parents (possibly true) and an embarrassment to his brother.  Just as Stick is coming-of-age, learning who he is (including how to handle himself around girls and women), he finds out that his brother, his idol, is gay.  Stick handles the revelation well, standing by his brother despite his own doubts and confusions, but the boys’ parents are not as understanding.  The fall out at home is too much, and both boys take off, separately – Bosten disappearing, and Stick gone to search for him.  Each of the brothers is forced to deal with distinct horrors while on the road, alone, both hoping to finally find a home, which turns out simply to be each other.

Characterization:
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.

Andrew Smith’s characters are simply beautiful, even the horrid ones.  Characterization and character development are clearly strengths for this writer.  Stick and Bosten are impressively wrought:  their weaknesses are at times frustrating, as they should be, and their strengths shine through.   The way they develop simultaneously independent of one another, as well as together as a pair, adds a great level of complexity and interest to the story as a whole.  The minor characters, such as the boys’ friends, Emily, the Twins, Aunt Dahlia, Mr. and Mrs. McClellan, Paul and even the tertiary characters like Willie and the Truck Driver all have unique personalities and interact with the boys in genuine ways, so as to advance the plot fluidly and with purpose.  Little if anything seems out-of-place, all of the characters seem necessary and unquestionably purposeful to the story.

Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

The second great strength for this book (and writer) is the prose –it is fluid, interesting, and meaningful.  There is much creative liberty taken with the book’s form and structure, which can sometimes be irritating (and which, admittedly, caused doubts in this reader at first); however, the structure breaks and style choices ultimately served the larger purpose of reflecting the mood of the story and its main character.  It was nearly impossible to put this book down, largely because the story was so interesting and the characters were endearing, but also because the prose progressed the story and its characters masterfully, from day-to-day, scene-to-scene.  The dialogue was well-written, the description was simple but effective, appropriate for the genre.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

Two weaker spots in the story, for me, include the deeper, darker revelation about the nature of Bosten’s relationship with his and Stick’s father, and the book’s final resolution.  The former turns out to fit into a stereotypical “explanation” cliché, played out often in stories of this kind; however, in Stick, it is, at least, more subtle and not an all-encompassing “why” to Bosten’s state of being.  The latter issue, the resolution, is not a disappointment in terms of vision, but more so in execution.  The descent to which Bosten falls, after leaving home, seems quite far in such a short time, and for one with such strength of character.  Also, his return to “home,” given where he ended up, seemed almost easy or simple.  Either of these parts of the resolution could work, I think, given more time – the ending just felt a bit rushed, though it did not dissuade from the overall quality of the book, nor was it a disappointment in general; in fact, where the boys ultimately end up was a great and welcome relief, appropriate to their natures and journeys.  The larger themes of family, independence, fear, self-empowerment, and growth are all well-executed and come about in realistic fashion.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +

Interest: Dysfunctional Families, Brothers, Friendship, Coming-of-Age, Gay Youth, Drug Culture

Notable Quotes:

“’It’s better, I think, to have a “best friend” than a girlfriend,’ Dahlia said.  ‘Girlfriends are your friends because they’re girls.  But best friends are people you can share everything with and not be afraid they’ll leave you with less.’”

 

 

*Note – This review pertains to an Advanced Reader’s Copy, graciously sent to me by Andrew’s publisher at Feiwel and Friends, and imprint of Macmillan, at Andrew’s request. The book will be available to all on October11th, 2011.

 

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