What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this book will encourage teens to think about racism and what its effects can be. The central event is a gruesome accident in which a boy's arm is torn off, and from which he eventually dies. There is racial bullying, name-calling, and other violence -- but teens will be moved by the story here as three teen boys seek understanding and redemption.
What's the story?
When Henry's older brother Franklin is killed in a car accident, Henry decides to go ahead with their planned trip to climb Mt. Katahdin. Along the way Henry -- accompanied by his best friend, his dog, and his brother's accused killer, a Cambodian refugee -- learns more about Franklin's real nature, the fateful accident, the wider world, and himself.
Is it any good?
As in his previous novels, Schmidt throws a lot of complexity and subplots in here, and this time not all of them are a comfortable fit or lead anywhere.
There are horror stories that involve werewolves, vampires, and other monsters of myth and fantasy, creatures that crawl out of overwrought imaginations and nighttime fears. And then there are the horror stories that involve the ordinary, everyday ways that human beings treat and mistreat one another. The first type can be fun, if you have a taste for that sort of thing. The second, especially in the hands of a master, is simply horrific; the kind of thing that, while you are reading it or thinking about it, makes it hard to breathe, or swallow, or see clearly through unshed tears.
And that's just the first half of what is really two stories in one novel. The second half, considerably lighter than the first, though not without its own horrors, is the road trip of three teen boys, each of them unknowingly seeking understanding and redemption. All the different subplots are fascinating, and each, such as a crew race or the discovery of the wreckage of a slave ship, has metaphorical resonance with the main story. Schmidt has emerged as a writer of rare power who spins emotionally and intellectually complex tales in a gorgeously literary style that makes every scene, every setting, every passing breeze, spring vividly and completely to life.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about this book's theme. Do the tensions between the Cambodians and white people seem authentic? How do they compare to the racial tensions that exist in your own school or community?
Readers who have finished Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars might want to compare and contrast the two books. How would you describe the author's writing style?