Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review: Five Minutes More

Five Minutes More by Darlene Ryan. (Grades 9+)

Five more minutes. D'Arcy knows that she can stand anything for five more minutes. It's a game that she and her dad used to play. When she didn't want to go to kindergarten, he told her they'd just stay for five minutes and if she didn't like it they would leave. When she wanted to leave, he told her they'd just stay for five more minutes. You can stand anything for just five more minutes.

Now D'Arcy's playing the game alone because her father has died and the thing she can't stand is living without him. Worse, some people are saying that he committed suicide. D'Arcy doesn't want to believe them, doesn't want to believe that her father could hurt her like this. But now everything about her life has changed. She's not even sure she knows who she is any more.

She said she could stand anything for just five minutes more, but can she stand this?

Five Minutes More is a searing portrayal of a girl dealing with her grief and anguish over her father's death. D'Arcy's family has torn apart at the seams. Her mother is collapsing in on herself, her estranged half-sister is appearing to collect all the heirlooms she feels entitled to, and D'Arcy's boyfriend and best friend seem to expect her to bounce right back to normal. The trouble is, D'Arcy doesn't have a "normal" any more, and she's finding it impossible to pretend.

To me, the book started off as a testament to resilience. D'Arcy gets through the funeral and the days after her father's death by taking it five minutes at a time, by placing one foot in front of the other. But soon things start to spiral out of control. She starts drinking wine to numb herself to the pain. D'Arcy pulls away from her boyfriend and best friend because they just don't seem to get it.

When adorkable Seth Thomas starts helping her with her math assignments, D'Arcy feels drawn to him. Maybe it's because he doesn't seem to expect anything from her. But as they get closer, she'll realize that she really doesn't know anything about him and that he's got his own problems that are weighing on him.

There were a few passages that stuck out to me as particularly nice, this like one when D'Arcy stumbles across Seth playing jazz piano:

He's playing jazz. My dad loved jazz.

I didn't get that music for a long time. I couldn't find the rhythm and I couldn't follow where it was going. Then one day Dad said, "Don't try to follow it or figure it out. Just let the music be all around you and listen."

And I did. I just sat there with my eyes closed and listened without thinking. The music ran up my back, it slid over my head, it jumped from one knee to the other and it spiraled down my arms. It was magic. I finally got why my dad liked it so much. (pg. 107)

This is a book that may appeal to fans of issue books (there's certainly enough drama to go around), but it wasn't totally up my alley. I think it's because I had a hard time connecting with D'Arcy. Darlene Ryan plops you right down in the middle of the action (the book opens with D'Arcy's dad's funeral) and doesn't let up. I didn't get a sense of who D'Arcy was.

But maybe that's entirely the point. I mean, everything has changed for D'Arcy and she's trying to figure out who she is without her father. If things feel a little disjointed and empty, that's because it reflects what D'Arcy herself is feeling.

More of a problem for me were the somewhat flat secondary characters. Claire is an evil step-sister, Brendan is the pushy jock boyfriend. A little fleshing out of their characters (or just a hint at what they're feeling or why they're acting the way they are) would have gone a long way.

Read more reviews at The Brain Lair and A Patchwork of Books. Check out Darlene Ryan's website and check back here for an interview with Ms. Ryan tomorrow!