From the Publisher
*"[A Certain October] provides raw and honest insight into all of the emotions the teen is experiencing…This fast-paced, well-crafted novel is capable of engaging even the most reluctant readers."
SLJ, starred review
*“This slim book looks like it will be a quick read, but it turns out to be much more demanding—and rewarding—due to the story’s complex structure and the author’s gift for showing, not telling.”
The Horn Book, starred review
*"A wonderfully crafted and deeply satisfying novel, full of detail that provides texture and meaning."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Three-time Coretta Scott King Award-winner Johnson (Heaven) pens a story of dazzling immediacy set in Cleveland. Her keenly observant narrator, Scotty, 16, divides her days between attending school, dealing with her autistic younger brother, Keone; and hanging out with her friends Falcone and Misha at the Endangered Species Cafe. Scotty's chief concerns are planning for the upcoming homecoming dance and making a trip to visit Falcone's sister, Gina, who became a mother figure to Scotty after her mother died. But Scotty's world is turned upside down when she's in a train crash that kills three students, including her very recent crush, and puts Keone in a coma. Dazed, Scotty suffers from survivor's guilt ("Half of Keone's bones are broken. I got bruises and a twisted knee. Life is stupid"), fantasizing ways the crash could have been avoided. Realistic dialogue and a cast of vibrant characters give lively texture to Johnson's nonlinear narrative. Through minimal exposition and Scotty's singular voice, Johnson gracefully explores life's defining moments, whether painful or bittersweet, and how the world carries on, even when everything has changed. Ages 14-up.
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Children's Literature - Judy DaPolito
Scotty tells us at the beginning that “a certain October” had a deep and lasting influence on her life. That junior year in high school begins routinely with scenes from ordinary days and relationships. The reader gradually learns about Scotty’s autistic brother Keone and her close friends Falcone and Misha. Scotty’s biggest problems seem to be keeping Keone clothed and away from cookies, helping Misha find a dress for the homecoming dance, and trying to patch up the rift between Falcone and his ex-boyfriend, Nick. The friends do not have perfect lives, but they care deeply for each other even when they do not agree. But Scotty’s life changes horribly when she’s in a train accident that kills a school friend and leaves Keone in a coma. Scotty’s injuries are far less serious, and in spite of the fact that she has no responsibility for the accident she feels deeply guilty. Her family and friends rally around her and give her the space and the love that will bring her back to them. The book’s characters are appealing and believable, and the ending is satisfying. It is a book that will stay with the reader. Reviewer: Judy DaPolito; Ages 12 up.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—When they are in a horrific train wreck on their way from a doctor's appointment, 16-year-old Scotty has minor physical injuries but suffers from emotional trauma and her young, autistic brother is left in a coma when a classmate dies. The classmate, Kris, stayed on past his stop to help her with her brother, and Scotty feels responsible for his death. Taking on the same tone as Chris Crutcher's Running Loose (Greenwillow, 1983), this book is written in the first person and provides raw and honest insight into all of the emotions the teen is experiencing. It is through the loving support of family and friends that she is able to heal and again embrace her life. Chapters are brief, and each one takes on the feel of a succinct, stand-alone short story. Johnson skillfully layers multiple levels of meaning throughout the book-at one point, Scotty notes, "We had a big-assed wind night before last and it took leaves that weren't ready to go" while preparing to attend a funeral. She deftly uses time to dole out the details of the story in morsels and build a sense of anticipation-chapter 9 opens, "Three days before the train, I got taken home in a cop car," and the following chapter begins, "What happened before the train…." The author also plays with the concept of dream versus reality in coping with tragedy. This fast-paced, well-crafted novel is capable of engaging even the most reluctant readers.—Nicole Knott, Watertown High School, CT
Scotty's world is turned upside down when an accident leaves her brother severely injured, an acquaintance dead and Scotty feeling responsible. In the fall of Scotty's junior year of high school, it appears all she has to worry about is reading Anna Karenina and the Homecoming dance. Scotty, who has been a vegetarian since last year's visit to a dairy farm, describes her reality: "My life is like tofu--it's what gets added that makes it interesting." The most unusual thing about Scotty is her autistic, 7-year-old brother, Keone, who likes to steal cookies and run naked through the neighborhood. Her father and stepmother handle her brother without fanfare, as does Scotty, so it was normal for her to take him to the doctor and return home on the train. It is there that a tragic accident leaves Scotty injured, Keone in a coma and two students dead. Suddenly, levelheaded Scotty, healing from the physical injuries, cannot let go of the guilt she feels about the loss of one student in particular. It is only when she finds a way to reconcile two of her friends and open herself to the attention of another that she takes tentative steps toward emotional peace. Printz Award winner Johnson (The First Part Last, 2004) tells this moving story of grief and guilt with clarity and unsentimental honesty. Scotty, with her rich interior life, is realistically drawn and surrounded by a cast of well-rounded secondary characters. A wonderfully crafted and deeply satisfying novel, full of detail that provides texture and meaning. (Fiction. 14 & up)
Read an Excerpt
IN THE FUTURE, WHEN I IMAGINE I MIGHT BE famous or infamous for something I’ve done, I suppose people will ask what it was that brought me to that place. Well, if I’m infamous I will say—no eyewitnesses and a good lawyer. If I’m famous I will say, I guess I just wanted it bad enough. One of these scenarios will probably be true, but more than likely neither will happen.
Most likely I’ll live my life like most people on the planet. Highs, lows, buy some shit, read some books, love some people, try not to eff the world up, and be kind to animals so they won’t eat me, as I’ve chosen to try not to eat them.
But if I’m ever asked if there was a time in my life that made me the person I am, I will point to a certain October that stays with me like a song played over the radio a hundred times at the start of a day. You can’t get it out of your head so all you can do is go through it. I never did finish my book report on Anna Karenina and I went through so much with people I loved and hung out with. I got to see the world through their eyes that certain October, although my own were slightly unfocused.