Middle school students have reading interests that run the gamut from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Twilight. Sometimes as a parent it is hard to know what is age appropriate for your child. Through this blog, I will try to help parents make informed decisions about what is available in our library. I am hoping that this blog will be a resource for our parents, and that we can all work together to make our students life-long readers!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie

Drums, Girls &
Dangerous Pie
by Jordan Sonnenblick
From the publisher:
"Thirteen-year-old Steven has a totally normal life: he plays drums in the All-Star Jazz band, has a crush on the hottest girl in the school, and is constantly annoyed by his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey. 

But when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven's world is turned upside down. He is forced to deal with his brother's illness and his parents' attempts to keep the family in one piece.

Salted with humor and peppered with devastating realities, Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie is a heartwarming journey through a year in the life of a family in crisis"

Think of the part in Disney's Beauty and the Beast where Belle takes a book out of her basket, hugs it and says, "I just read the most WONDERFUL story".  That is how I felt when I finished this book. I laughed, I cried, I hugged. I have so many students here at school who ask if we have The Fault in Our Stars , and I always tell them we don't have it because it is a high school book.  Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie is the book I will start steering them towards. It is a beautiful story of a family fighting cancer. The only raging teenage hormones in this story belong to our main character, Steven, who is madly crushing on the "hottest girl in 8th grade" and she doesn't really even know he's alive. It is a lovely coming-of-age story and besides hugging the book, I wish I could hug the author.

I loved the characters in this book! They were all so well drawn and I felt like they were all my friends. I cried for some and cheered for others. These were real people going through a horrific experience. Steven is a normal 8th grade boy with a little brother who bugs him. When that little brother gets cancer, it turns Steven's world upside-down. The stages of grief he went through were valid and normal. Was he perfect? No, he was an every day kid. I found that so refreshing. I particularly loved the chapter "Take Me!".  In this chapter, Steven starts bargaining with God to save his brother. I think we all do the bargain-with-God thing when we are in those circumstances. Steven's bargains involved Ring Dings, never hitting his brother again, never having impure thoughts about the hottest girl in school again... A favorite quote:

"But let's face it - I am a thirteen-year-old American male. I have no willpower. So every night I'd go to bed totally convinced that I was going to gain twenty pounds and be a fat, violent pervert forever and that my little brother was doomed." 

He attempts many other bargains throughout the course of that chapter, and the end of the chapter is hysterical. I read it out loud to my 6th graders when I book-talked this book. Read it and see. And yet we are never allowed to forget that behind all of the funny things that go on, there is the black cloud of cancer hanging over all their heads. This was so well done. 

Another thing I loved about this book is the family dynamic. Once again, they are not perfect - they are normal. The dad is overburdened and worried about the mounting bills. The mom is naturally focusing most of her efforts on her 5 year old with cancer. They have problems, they have issues, but they remain a family and grow together throughout the process. Another favorite quote:

"Since when do you wear cologne to learn math? Oh, my son is growing up right in front of my very eyes. Maybe I should get out the video camera.

Maybe you should tie me to a stake, douse me in kerosene, and torch me right on our front lawn.

I won't need any kerosene, Steven - I'm sure the cologne will go up pretty fast!

Ha-ha, Mom. " 

I have also discovered, through my vast experience of reading middle grade and Young Adult books, that if you want a true picture of how schools and teachers really are, read a book written by a teacher. So often in books the teachers are portrayed as total idiots or uncaring jerks. I appreciated the care and attention the teachers and counselor gave to Steven in this book.   STEVEN doesn't always appreciate it, however (another case of real and normal).  

One last thing - I'm a percussionist, so I thoroughly enjoyed all of  the drumming references. I can't remember the last time I heard the word "paradiddle". The band teacher, Mr. Watras, reminded me very much of my own Jr. High band teacher, Mr. Art Lies, who cared about us tremendously, but wasn't above chucking his baton at our heads when we weren't listening or playing correctly. 

I can't recommend this book highly enough. I will definitely be reading more by Jordan Sonnenblick and continuing to book talk his books. 

Areas of concern:
I don't think there are any concerns for parents in this one. Things that might have been a concern were handled so beautifully that they weren't a concern anymore.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 5-8
School Library Journal - Ages 12+

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