Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review: After Ever After

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick. Grades 4-8. Scholastic, February 2010. Review copy provided by publisher.

We first met Jeffrey in Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, narrated by Jeffrey's older brother Steven. Then Jeffrey was a little kid with cancer. Now, he's a teenager in remission. That's great, right? He survived, he beat the cancer. But what he found out is that after you beat the cancer, you still have to deal with it. He's slower in school because the chemo affected his brain. He walks with a limp because the chemicals caused nerve damage in his foot. And he'll always, always be The Kid Who Had Cancer.

Which is why it's so interesting when there's a new girl from California in his class. Lindsey doesn't know him as the miracle boy who survived a horrible illness. And let me tell you, if Jeffrey could figure out how to ask her out, that would be the true miracle. If only his trusty big brother was around to help him, but Steven's escaped to Africa to join a drum circle, leaving Jeffrey to fend for himself.

Add to the mix the standardized tests that all the eighth graders have to pass in order to move on to high school. The test that Jeffrey's sure he's going to fail. Yeah, Jeffrey beat the cancer and lived happily ever after. But this book is about what goes on after ever after.

Oh, you guys. You knew I was going to love this book. I love me some Jordan Sonnenblick. Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie was a winner of the Illinois kids' choice award (the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award), after all. And of course I loved this book. It made me laugh and it made me cry, which is exactly what I have come to expect from Jordan Sonnenblick*.

In Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, who knew that a book about cancer could actually be funny? Well, After Ever After is funny, too. And touching. And my favorite thing is that while cancer does play a prominent role in setting up the story and how things play out, the book is really just about an eighth grade kid who happens to be a cancer survivor. He faces the same difficulties that any eighth** grade boy might face. He likes a girl. He has a best friend who can be a jerk sometimes. He's facing a major test and feeling a lot of pressure.

And boy howdy, Mr. Sonnenblick's stance on standardized testing is NO SECRET in this book. That's all I shall say about it.

Let's look at the writing, shall we? Here's the passage right after Jeffrey meets the cute new girl from California:

"I was speechless. The neurologist would tell you I have "slow processing as a late effect," which is another way of saying that people can really make me look dumb if they're quick talkers. And apparently Lindsey Abraham was, like, an intercontinental talking missile. By the time my brain worked its way through her whole train of thought, I must have looked like a total goon. "Uh, it's Jeffrey. Jeffrey Alper. From New Jersey." Oh, good God, I thought. Did I really just say that?" (pp11-12 - quotes are from ARC and may appear differently in the final book!)

So, Jeffrey's voice snagged me right away. And his witty observations drew me in, too. Like this passage from a little later on:

"Remember a few years ago, when scientists announced that Pluto wasn't a planet anymore? All of a sudden, that was the main story in the news for, like, a week and a half. I remember being all worried for some reason I could never name, and I think that happened to a lot of people. It's not like the planethood status of Pluto was a major factor in anybody's conscious life before that, but when Pluto suddenly stopped being a planet, the whole world was unnerved. Like, if they can take away Pluto, what's next? What if the sun isn't - a sun? What if I'm really adopted? What if everyone in my town was secretly whisked away in the middle of the night and replaced by exact replica aliens?" (pp 36-37)

So, yes, the book made me laugh. And it had characters that I cared about and was interested in. And can I just mention that I love the way the cover (at least the ARC cover) matches perfectly with DGADP's paperback cover?

In fact, if you haven't already read DGADP, I insist that you do so. And you have a little bit of time because After Ever After is due on shelves February 1.

*Except for that Dodger and Me series. I just couldn't quite get on board with a blue chimp.
** Is it just me or is "eighth", like, the hardest word to spell? I don't think I've spelled it right on the first try one time in this entire post. Arg.