CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 15. . . .December 11, 2009
This Family is Driving Me Crazy: Ten Stories About Surviving Your Family.
M. Jerry Weiss & Helen S. Weiss, eds.
New York, NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2009.
224 pp., hardcover, $22.50.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Karen Boyd.
Welcome to the world of Sparta family vacations. The Spartans, Dad called us. He always compared us to the ancient Greeks. Personally, I didn't see the connection. Those legendary warriors fought battles for the protection of their homes and loved ones, the survival of their city-state. But Dad wasn't protecting his family when he jumped in the water with the great white. One the contrary, he practically got them all killed. (From the "Wimp of Sparta" by Gordon Korman.)
Chantelle Pierce-Memphis, Tennessee
My mother thinks I'm a virgin.
I was—two years ago.
The less she knows about my social life,
The more she can live in the past.
How can I tell her about Thomas,
Who took my hand and then worked his way
'cross other parts of my anatomy,
Exploring the landscape like some misguided traveler?
His intention was always to sightsee, never
To check the feelings of the local inhabitant. (From "American Teen" by Mel Glenn.)
Is there an adolescent, past or present, who hasn't considered that they may be living in a family in which they are the only sane member? M. Jerry Weiss and Helen S. Weiss have collected 10 stories that explore the ways that we navigate the weirdness of the people we call family.
The overriding themes in the collection are identity and unconditional love. Peter, in "Wimp of Sparta," finds himself the lone cautious one in a family of daredevils, and Gracie in "Listen" is a competent diplomat in a family that prides itself on conflict and dissension. Each must find a way to belong without giving up who they are.
Regardless of their differences, each character realizes that love is what binds them to their family. In "For the Love of Pork," Joshua loves his inflexible, preacher father as much as he loves pork, much to the disgust of his mother's new vegan boyfriend. His preacher father learns that by loving others he can love himself. Marli gets "Another Chance" with her deadbeat dad and finds that her love not only allows her to forgive, but to extend her love to newfound family. In "Happily (sorta) ever after (maybe)." Lexi negotiates the line between fact and fantasy and realizes that her own reality is not as bad as she thought, and Peter in "Tunnel Vision" chooses his family over a baseball lover's heaven. Most of the stories are uplifting and hopeful.
Contributed by well-known authors such as Gordon Korman, Walter Dean Myers, and Joan Bauer, the stories are well-written and enjoyable. Most put a humourous spin on the family conflict. Avery must deal with the "horror" of his Christopher Robin outfit that he is required to wear to his sister's wedding in "The Most Mauve There is." And while many of the families are relatable to everyone, Grandpa Lee and the Curry family in "Midnight Bus to Georgia" push the boundaries of the law and morals. Others deal sensitively with issues of abandonment, isolation, and death.
Nine of the stories have a traditional narrative structure. The sole exception is "American Teen," a series of vignettes written from the perspectives of teens across the country. Each individual story highlights the similarities of struggle and anxiety in the life of a teenager. The structure of the piece has a fascinating symmetry that pulls the vignettes together without a common plot.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading each story. Well crafted, they each bring their own unique perspective to the universal adolescent theme of simultaneously being annoyed and appreciative with parents and siblings. I wish that I could recommend this book without reservations, but the two excerpts included in this review highlight my main concern. Who is the audience? While some of the stories are humorous stories about offbeat families, like the Spartas in Korman's contribution, others are darker and deal with mature themes, like the series of vignettes in Glenn's "American Teen." While the publisher recommends this book for children 10 and up, I have some concerns that the stories do not consistently appeal to the same age range throughout. This poses problems when choosing how and with whom to use this book.
Recommended with reservations.
Karen Boyd is a graduate student in Language and Literacy at the University of Manitoba and teaches in the Bachelor of Education program.
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