Sometimes it’s about being behind in my reading. I’m finally getting to the level in my reading pile occupied by Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie. In truth, I’ve moved the book down a few times, not feeling strong enough to read a book about leukemia. I’m sure you understandâ€”there are certain times when crying over a book will derail a day. I’m sorry I waited so long. This was a book I couldn’t put down, litmus test number one.
My favorite way to read a newly discovered author is to start with their first book and then read them in chronological order. That way I can watch the author’s skills develop. Do their characterizations improve? Does their plotting get tighter? Do they begin to understand that there’s nothing extraneous in a fine novel … even seemingly unrelated parts are pulled together nicely by the end?
Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie is about Steven Alper and his family at a particularly vulnerable time: Jeffrey, the adorable, rambunctious, slightly-annoying four-year-old brother is diagnosed with lymphatic leukemia. It sends the family’s lives into a tailspin. The book realistically depicts despair, anger, worry, disgust, helplessness … all the ways a family unit is challenged by a possibly disastrous change. And yet, this is a funny book. The balance of humor and pathos seems instinctive for this author. That’s either an undetectable editing hand or a mighty fine first novel. Girlfriends, grades, drumming, a human service project, another cancer patient, responsibility, a distant dad … there’s so much wrapped into this story and it all fits.
Yes, I did start crying about thirty pages before the end, but it felt cleansing, not the “I know this is meant to make me cry and I resent myself for succumbing to the manipulation of the author” type of tears. I was so caught up in the characters and their lives, made possible by Steven’s sense of humor, that crying felt good.
Mr. Sonnenblick’s next book was Notes from the Midnight Driver. We’ve had that on our shelves for over a year but I haven’t felt compelled to pick it up. Needless to say, yesterday I walked around to our various bookshelves and gathered a small pile of Jordan Sonnenblick books. But I won’t read them in order. Late in the day, I bought his new book, After Ever After, because it is the sequel to Drums. This book is about Jeffrey, now age thirteen, and his young life as a cancer survivor. I couldn’t resist letting the story continue … so I may miss the observation of the writer’s development, but this time it’s all about the story, one that grabbed me and, thankfully, I don’t yet need to let go.