By Chris Crutcher
(For young adults)
In the opening chapter, 18-year-old Ben Wolf is told by his physician that he has a terminal blood disease. As soon as he hears the news, he makes the decision not to tell anyone about his prognosis. This decision is based on the fact that he wants to have a “normal” senior year.
At first, thanks to his newfound courage, it seems as though he is going to get his wish — he makes the varsity football team, gets a date with his crush, Dallas Suzuki, and has an all-around extraordinary first semester — until he realizes that telling the truth is more important than protecting his loved ones.
As usual, Crutcher’s novel has many subplots and a variety of secondary characters including Mr. Lambeer, Ben’s right-wing government teacher; Rudy McCoy, the town drunk, a former priest and a self-confessed child molester; Marla, a therapist and the only other person besides Ben’s physician to know about his illness; and Hey-soos, a Jesus-like character who appears to Ben in his dreams. All the secondary characters have secrets of their own, and it is through them that Ben ultimately sees how important it is that he share his secret.
In the end, he tells his family, his football coach, his girlfriend and eventually the whole school. Ben falls short in his goal of making it to his high-school graduation, but his brother, Cody, delivers an emotional address that Ben penned before his death.
Crutcher pulls no punches in this poignant work. There is a lot going on, but readers will appreciate the fast pace, the sports theme, and Ben’s ambitious desire to pack the rest of his life into his senior year of high school.
‘The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World’
By E.L. Konigsburg
(For fourth through eighth grade)
This touching mystery starts with an unlikely friendship between two sixth-grade boys, Amadeo Kaplan and William Wilcox.
Amadeo and his divorcée mother are recent additions to St. Malo, Fla., and William is a clever, aloof young man who is business partners with his liquidator mother.
Presently, William and his mother are sorting through the possessions of Amadeo’s eccentric, domineering neighbor, Mrs. Zender. Amadeo, whose secret hope is to discover something important, offers to help, and William agrees. It is through this partnership that Amadeo discovers a sketch by Italian artist Modigliani.
With this discovery, a secret about Mrs. Zender’s past is revealed and a connection between her and Amadeo’s godfather, Peter Vanderwaal, is slowly exposed. Peter is the director of the Sheboygan Art Center and is preparing an exhibit on Degenerate Art — artwork that was banned by Adolf Hitler during WWII.
Through a memoir written by Peter’s deceased father and Peter’s introduction of the art exhibit, readers learn of the unconscionable repression of artists during the Holocaust. It is with these seemingly unrelated pieces of information that readers are finally able to see the whole picture and understand how one sketch can connect so many lives.
Konigsburg’s distinctive characters are the heart of the story, and readers are sure to welcome this mysterious tale with just the right mix of historical information.
Jeana Gockley is the children’s librarian at Joplin Public Library.