Less intense but just as candid as his debut The Burn Journals, Runyon's sensitively wrought novel explores a high-school student coming to terms with his older brother's death. Through Brian's first-person narrative, the author demonstrates how Brian's life has been rocked by the tragedy, beginning with his move to a new house and school, where no one knows that his family has suffered a loss. The protagonist's attitude towards teachers, classes and students reveals a lack of emotional commitment and bottled-up anger, which only begins to surface after he joins a theater group and lands a part in a play. Sean does not speak outwardly about his grief (details about his brother's car accident are not revealed until the end of the book), but readers will sense his emptiness at school and at home, where his parents continue their lives as though everything were normal. Sean's first attempt to confess his loss (which occurs right after he loses his virginity) causes him more pain than relief but signifies a turning point in his healing process. Brian's intimate, often humorous narrative exposes his overactive sexual drive, his impressions of people, and his day-to-day frustrations, which will quickly draw teens into the story and entice them to read between the lines to understand Brian's underlying sorrow. Ages 14-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Matthew Weaver
Destined in this reviewer's eyes to become a young adult classic, this novel follows Brian as he moves to a new school in the wake of a mystery surrounding his older brother. Brian's struggle to get acclimated finds him hanging with the local thespians, brushing up against random girls in the hallway to feel them up, and wondering if it is okay to have sex with a girl whom he really does not even like. Brian is shut off emotionally and surrounded by people going through their own stories of pain and drama, until the book's haunting conclusion, in which he takes one final car ride with his brother. The final scene hits readers like a bullet and casts even more shadows upon everything that came before. Runyon's first book after The Burn Journals (Knopf, 2004/VOYA October 2004), the account of his own suicide attempt, is gritty stuff, but it is also powerful and realistic-perhaps one of the best portrayals of the American adolescent male, even at his darkest. Not every reader will like or do everything that Brian does-his all-encompassing pursuit of sex comes laden with heavy profanity and alcohol-but by the end of the book, it is a virtual guarantee that he will have expressed at least one thought shared by all teenagers. If one has ever looked at a male youth and wondered what was going on inside his head, this book will go a long way toward answering some of those questions-which for some will be a pretty scary thought.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-A novel about the loss of a sibling should be painful and poignant, and this one is both, but it's also surprisingly funny. Brian, 16, is a smart but ordinary student coping with family tragedy-though readers don't get the details until almost the end of the book-and also adjusting to a new high school. His first-person, present-tense narrative lets readers peer into his often-random thoughts as he moves through his classes, makes new friends, and dates all the wrong girls. Meanwhile, his grief is something he pushes to the background. Brian's voice is clear and authentic; his thoughts come across as uncensored and raw, ranging from angrily self-destructive to sharply observant. His reflections on the opposite sex are both amusing and sad-for instance, he struggles to decide whether to break up with a girlfriend who annoys him, but who may offer him a chance to lose his virginity. Slowly, he reconnects with his parents, figures out a few things about himself, and comes to terms with his brother's death. Readers looking for action and adventure won't find it here, but this is a superb exploration of sudden loss, romantic disappointment, and general adolescent angst.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Runyon follows the critical success of Burn Journals (2004) with a foray into fiction that features another troubled teenaged boy. The 16-year-old protagonist finds himself awash in self-doubt and insecurity when his family moves to a new town after the tragic death of his older, more gregarious, brother. Plagued with "maybes," ("maybe she'll have sex with me," "maybe I should join the Thespians"), the young man's most worrisome doubts are that his brother might have crashed his car on purpose, and that he might be heading down the same road of self-destruction. When at school or with friends, his grief is held at bay; however, the few scenes in which the boy interacts with his parents are particularly poignant in their portrayal of how a family tries to move forward despite their heartache. The common insecurities of adolescence-specifically of hormonally charged teenaged boys-coupled with the added drama and intrigue surrounding the brother's accident, make this an accessible work for a wide, albeit older, teen audience. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
“Sensitively-wrought novel . . . will quickly draw teens into the story and entice them to read between the lines to understand Brian’s underlying sorrow.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred
“Destined in this reviewer’s eyes to become a young adult classic. . . . If one has ever looked at a male youth and wondered what was going on inside his head, this book will go a long way toward answering some of those questions.”—VOYA
“This is a superb exploration of sudden loss, romantic disappointment, and general adolescent angst.”—School Library Journal
Read an Excerpt
This sucks. We’re moving. The truck just left with all our stuff and my mom and dad are waiting for me in the car. We’re about to leave. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe we’re moving away from the only place I’ve lived in my whole life.
I lean into the car and say, “Wait, I think I forgot something.”
I go back into the house one last time. It’s so weird to be in here with everything empty. The couch used to be right there. There’s an impression in the carpet where it used to be—the ghost of a couch.
I walk down the hall to my room. There’s nothing left. The posters are off the walls—all that’s left are a few pieces of tape and the hole from when I tried to do a flip and put my foot right through the drywall.
My brother’s room is right across the hall. The door is closed and I don’t want to open it. When we were little we used to barricade ourselves into his room with those cardboard bricks and then bust through like we were the Incredible Hulk. I know it’s empty, but I just can’t stand to open the door and look in. I don’t want to see it empty. I want to remember it full.
There is a sign on his door that he made in Shop class. The word Maybe carved into the wood. It’s stuck on the door with some heavy-duty adhesive. Mom told me to leave it because she didn’t want to ruin the door. Fuck that. I tear it off, and some of the paint with it. I just want to have something.
I run out the front door and slam it behind me one last time. My parents are still waiting in the car. They’re sitting in the front seats being totally quiet. My dad is driving, my mom is crying, and I’m sitting in the back by myself.
Mom drives me to my new high school. Classes start in three days, and I’m supposed to meet my new guidance counselor and choose my schedule. Jesus, why do I have to do this? Why can’t someone else do this for me?
I’m sure my guidance counselor is going to be some old guy in a terrible suit and a tie that’s about six inches too short and just lie on his belly. He’s going to have this terrible breath and probably be mixing whiskey in with his coffee.
Mom drops me off out front and says she’s going to do some errands. “I’ll pick you up in an hour.” An hour? Why do I need a whole hour?
I walk through the front doors and stand in the lobby.
The school is totally empty. When a place that is usually full of people is totally empty, it’s really weird. The floors are all waxed and shiny, and it smells like heavy-duty toxic lemon cleaner.
The only place that even has lights on is the main office right in front of me.
The lady behind the desk is old but has jet-black hair and one eye that is looking at the door I just came through. The other eye is looking at me.
She says, “Hello, son. Can I help you?” Her voice is unbelievably high—like a fire-engine siren.
I say, “I’m here to meet my guidance counselor.”
The lady is wearing a muumuu—like the thing that people from Hawaii wear, except I don’t think she is from Hawaii. She asks my last name and I tell her, and she searches for a while in this really ancient computer and then looks up at me and at the door and smiles.
She says, “You’re with Mr. Scott.”
“Okay, how do I find him?”
“Follow the drumming.”
I walk out of the office and stand in the hall for a second. Was she saying that Mr. Scott was like the band director or something? There isn’t any drumming that I can hear.
Wait, now I hear the drumming. It just started. It’s not, like, crappy jazz drumming or marching-band drumming, it’s straight up rock-and-roll drumming. Real kick-ass—bass-snare-ba-bass-bass-snare—drumming.
I walk down the hall toward the sound. I get so close I feel the bass drum in my chest.
I pull open the doors to the auditorium and stand in the back and watch the guy play. He has his drum kit set up in the orchestra pit, and he’s just going crazy on the drums.
He has long hair and he’s wearing some sort of cutoff shirt, and his arms are a total blur.
I move closer to get a better look at how fast his arms are moving from drum to drum, and then he sees me and stops. “Hey,” he says. “Sorry, I didn’t know anyone was in here.”
I say, “You didn’t have to stop.” I mean, he’s a pretty damn good drummer.
“No. No. I’m almost done.” He’s out of breath. “Do you need me for something?”
“Well, I don’t know. I guess you’re supposed to be my guidance counselor.”
“Whoa. Okay. Cool. Let’s do it.”
He takes me back to his office and fills out a bunch of forms for me. He signs me up for all my required classes: Latin II, Chemistry, English, Algebra II, and U.S. History. I sign up for an elective called Visual Language, because it sounds cool and I like movies.
He says, “Okay, Brian, you’ve got one elective left. Third period. And the only classes that are open are Shop and Chorus.” He looks at me like the choice is pretty obvious. Take Shop and get your fingers cut off, or take Chorus and learn something about music.
My brother took Shop, so I sign up for Chorus.
From the Hardcover edition.