I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain Book Poster Image
Compelling tale of loss, love, addiction in poetry & prose.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will be introduced to more than a dozen poets, both well known (Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton), not so well known (John Berryman), and "queer" (Richard Siken and Danez Smith).

Positive Messages

Words -- the ones you write and ones written by others -- can both heal and enlighten.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Avery has not had an easy time of it. Both his mother and grandfather are alcoholics, and that's often made his life chaotic and unpredictable. While he does turn to alcohol on a couple of occasions, he decides books and his own writing will help him get his life on the right track.

Violence
Sex

Avery and Luca exchange a few kisses, have a first (for both of them) sexual encounter -- more alluded to than described in detail. A woman orders a donut that has a pretzel stick penis.

Language

A few uses of  "s--t," "f---ing," and "ass."

Consumerism

Filled with casual mentions of pop stars and bands (Beyonce, Sorority Noise, Taylor Swift, Sia), food and restaurants (Mountain Dew, Red Lobster, McDonald's), and movies (The Searchers A Walk in the Woods).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Much of the storyline revolves around emotional fallout created by characters who are alcoholics -- both in recovery and in denial. Avery's mother drives drunk. Avery gets drunk on vodka, and poets smoke cigarettes in his dreams.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Will Walton's I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain is told in stream-of-consciousness prose and poetry by 16-year-old Avery, who's just begun his summer vacation. A lot is happening in Avery's life: His mother starts drinking again and goes back to rehab, his grandfather is in denial about his own alcoholism, a beloved family member dies, and Avery and his best friend, Luca, are planning on losing their virginity to each other. Inspired by a stack of poetry books given to him by a teacher for summer reading, Avery tries to make sense of the upheavals in his life by writing and journaling. Famous poets even show up in his dreams to try to help guide him through the rough times. One gay sexual experience is described in several short, non-explicit sentences, and profanity is limited to a few uses of  "s--t," "f---ing," and "ass." While potential readers might initially be intimidated by a novel written in such an unfamiliar format and filled with poetry and poets, those willing to give it a try will find it a relatable, rewarding, and exciting literary adventure.

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What's the story?

As I FELT A FUNERAL, IN MY BRAIN begins, 16-year-old Avery's English teacher is loading him up with a stack of poetry books (Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg) for him to read over the summer. Avery is thrilled. He's also thrilled that he got an A on his biology final. He and his best friend, Luca, have made a pact that if they both "aced Bio," they'd lose their virginity to each other. But the summer does not go at all as Avery had planned. He and his mother (who's driving drunk) are in an accident that leaves Avery on crutches with a broken kneecap. This send his mother back to rehab and Avery to live with his grandfather, who's in denial about his own alcoholism. As the story unfolds, his mother returns, someone Avery loves dies, and he turns to words -- reading poetry, exploring works by "queer" poets, writing his own free verse and poetry, and journaling -- to try to stay emotionally afloat.

Is it any good?

Unlike anything most teens have ever read, this sometimes challenging blend of prose and poetry is ultimately a relatable story of grief, addiction, and love. While I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain may initially get a "Poetry? No way" reaction from some teens, it won't take long before they find themselves letting go of any doubts or fears about reading this unconventional novel and being captivated by Avery's story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the secrets that are kept in I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain. How can keeping a secret sometimes be as dangerous and destructive as the secret itself?

  • Is there music you listen to or an author you read when you're going through a difficult time? How do words and music have the power to heal?

  • Do you have friends or family members who are battling addiction? What impact has that had on the lives of the people who love and care for them?

Book details

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