4.5 11
by Andrew Smith

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Fourteen-year-old Stark McClellan (nicknamed Stick because he's tall and thin) is bullied for being "deformed" - he was born with only one ear. His older brother Bosten is always there to defend Stick. But the boys can't defend one another from their abusive parents.

When Stick realizes Bosten is gay, he knows that to survive his father's anger, Bosten must

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Fourteen-year-old Stark McClellan (nicknamed Stick because he's tall and thin) is bullied for being "deformed" - he was born with only one ear. His older brother Bosten is always there to defend Stick. But the boys can't defend one another from their abusive parents.

When Stick realizes Bosten is gay, he knows that to survive his father's anger, Bosten must leave home. Stick has to find his brother, or he will never feel whole again. In his search, he will encounter good people, bad people, and people who are simply indifferent to kids from the wrong side of the tracks. But he never loses hope of finding love - and his brother.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—A tall, thin frame has earned 13-year-old Stark McClellan the nickname "Stick." He was born with a deformed ear, more like a hole in his head, and he is hyperaware of what he sees as a grotesque physical defect. His older brother, Bosten, defends him from bullies when he can, and the boys do their best to look out for each other when their abusive parents are on the rampage. Stick has one friend, Emily, but not much else is good in his life. When Bosten finds some small measure of love with a schoolmate (another boy), Stick keeps the secret without judging, but all too quickly the families find out. Bosten runs away and Stick follows to find him. Well into the story, Aunt Dahlia is introduced, adding a small blossom of hope for the brothers. While staying with her, they experience life free from emotional and physical abuse and enjoy a week surfing with kids in her neighborhood. Dahlia and her seaside home offer the promise of healing and better times to come. Smith effectively structures the words on some pages to mimic the one-sided input Stick hears through his single functional ear. Most of the story is bleak and harsh, and Stick tells his tale in language that is frank, dark, brutal, haunting, and mesmerizing. Suggest this to readers who can handle the intensity of Smith's In the Path of Falling Objects (2009) and The Marbury Lens (2010, both Feiwel & Friends).—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX
Publishers Weekly
In Smith’s intense third novel, 13-year-old Stark McClellan—“Stick” to his friends—has been dealt a very rough hand, having been born without an ear and suffering horrific abuse at the hands of his parents, on top of everyday middle-school hell. Lacking confidence, Stick and his older brother, Bosten, don’t realize that other kids live lives free from constant beatings and crazy house rules. Stick is a good kid, but he’s at an age when sexual arousal is embarrassingly frequent, girls are mysterious, and nothing in his life makes sense. Then he discovers in rapid succession that his brother is gay, his parents are divorcing, and his brutal father has custody. When Bosten disappears after a violent confrontation with their father, Stick steals the family car in an attempt to find him. Smith (The Marbury Lens) revs up the emotions and the violence in this realistic and powerful tale, bringing in sexual abuse, hard drugs, and homelessness, while including enough positive characters to give Stick the support he desperately needs, providing for an imperfect but believable happy ending. Age 14–up. (Oct.)
Horn Book Magazine

The violence of the story is intense, but so is the deep loyalty between the brothers.

The prose is strong and evocative, lapsing into imagistic poetry at times to reveal the intensity of Stick's emotions. Readers should be prepared to have their hearts broken by these vulnerable, utterly lovable brothers.

A smaller work from Smith, but one that sustains his growing rep as one of the sharpest blades in YA.
The Bulletin

The prose is strong and evocative, lapsing into imagistic poetry at times to reveal the intensity of Stick's emotions. Readers should be prepared to have their hearts broken by these vulnerable, utterly lovable brothers.
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
At six feet, thirteen-year-old Stark McClellan is already taller than his beloved older brother, Bosten; hence the nickname Stick. But his height is the least of his problems. Stick was born without a right ear, which makes him the object of perpetual bullying attacks. Moreover, his mother wishes he had never been born and his sadistic father beats both boys savagely on a regular basis and then locks them in solitary confinement in a cold room with a bare cot and bucket for toilet. Worse still is what will happen when their father finds out that Bosten is gay, and when Stick sets out in search for Bosten on a journey complete with forced cocaine use, threatened oral sex, and a couple of witnessed murders thrown in. Stick is a likeable character, and the closeness between the brothers is palpable and moving. But their story reflects the unfortunate trend in the young adult "problem novel" that if one problem is good for the plot, eight or ten problems are better. Smith uses gaps in the text to capture the way that Stick supposedly hears, but the gaps do not mark missing words unheard, they just dot the sentences for no reason except to give an unsettling, destabilizing cadence to Stick's speech. No reason is given for the parents' unremitting cruelty to their sons. As Bosten says, "things don't make people the way they are...You just are." Still, Smith keeps readers turning the pages, grateful for whatever qualified, cautious hope he is willing to provide. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
VOYA - Geri Diorio
Although Stick is in eighth grade and his brother Bosten is in eleventh, they are best friends and fiercely protective of each other. They have to be; they get no love at home, only abuse. Stick was born without one ear, and his self consciousness about this only makes things worse for him. When they are unceremoniously dumped at their great-aunt's California home for a school break, the brothers taste freedom and love from an adult for the first time. Later, when their father discovers Bosten is gay, Bosten flees to California with Stick not far behind. Although their road to a safe, loving home is fraught with dangers from without, as well as from within, it is a journey that Smith tells with skill and compulsive readability. Smith is brutally straightforward in his storytelling; readers face scenes of the father sexually abusing Bosten, Stick being forced to watch his father beat Bosten bloody, and the boys locked into a room with only a bucket for a commode. When someone is talking to Stick, Smith spaces out the words on the page to represent Sticks hearing loss. It might have been distracting in the hands of a lesser writer, but here it provides a perfect awkward tone to the story, much like the tone of these boys' lives. Dark, painful, but ultimately hopeful, this is not a book for everyone, but in the right reader's hands, it will be treasured. Reviewer: Geri Diorio
Kirkus Reviews

A fast-paced, unsettling portrayal of abuse and brotherly loyalty.

Born with one ear, 14-year-old Stick, née Stark, has been bullied for as long as he can remember in his Oregon hometown. His tough older brother, Bosten, usually looks out for him. At home, their abusive parents do little else besides smoke, drink and beat the living daylights out of their sons. When Bosten is discoveredin flagrante delictowith his best friend, he's severely beaten and imprisoned by their father. The next morning, Stick discovers Bosten has fled the scene. Stick then embarks on a perilous journey to find him. Intense, brutal and heartrending, Smith's latest starts off choppy but soon finds its stride. He visually breaks up his dialogue to represent Stick's hearing disability, which may seem twee at first, but the cumulative effect makes the device work. The abuse is relentless, and it doesn't let up even after the brothers finally escape their parents. A temporary relief—for both the characters and readers—is found at an aunt's house in California, where friendship, surfing and sand wash their anxieties away. Neither brother understands just how awful their life is until they experience this respite, and that makes the abuse at home all the worse. Smith's well-crafted dialogue and characterizations help move the plot along quickly towards an unnecessarily crunched ending.

An altogether compelling, if disturbing work.(Fiction. 14 & up)

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Feiwel & Friends
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FIRST: saint fillan's room
What would you hear if my words could make

sounds? And if they did, what music would I

write for you?

They call me Stick.
I am six feet tall, an inch taller than my brother, Bosten, who is in eleventh grade.
I'm thirteen, and a stick.

My real first name is Stark, which, in my opinion, is worse than being called Stick. It was my great-grandfather's name, and I suppose my parents were all into connecting with our roots or something when they decided to put it on me. My great-grandstick lived and died in Ireland and never once set eyes on me in his entire life. But I'm pretty sure he'd call me Stick, too, if he ever had.
A lot of times, after people learn my name, they'll say things like, "Oh. What an unusual name," which, to me, sounds the same as, "Look at that poor, deformed boy"
And when they learn that I don't care to be called Stark, they'll offer some consolation.
"I'll bet you come to like that name when you're grown up."
The only things I can think of that people like more after they grow up are alcohol and cigarettes.
My parents smoke all the time.
I am as unremarkable as canned green beans.
It bothers me when people stare at me. Most of the time, they can't help doing it on account of my missing right ear.
Besides that, with first names like ours, my brother and I may just as well walk around waving signs saying LOOK AT us. At least where we grew up, in Washington State, boys were all pretty much expected to have names like "Chip" or "Robert."
But not Bosten and Stark McClellan.

The world sounds different to me than it does to anyone else. Pretty much all of the time, it sounds like this.

Half my head is quiet.
I was born this way.
Most people don't notice it right away, but once they do, I see their faces; I watch how they'll move around toward that side--the one with the missing part--so they can see what's wrong with me.
So, here. Look at me.
I'm ugly.

When you see me at first, I look like just another teenage boy, only too tall and too skinny. Square on, staring into my headlights, and you're probably going to think I look nice, a handsome kid, even--green eyes, brown hair, a relaxed kind of face (from not smiling too much, probably). But then get around to that side, and you see it. I have what looks like the outline of a normal boy's ear, but it's pressed down into the flesh, squashed like potter's clay. No hole--a canal, they call it.
Nothing gets into my head that way.
I can't easily hide it because my dad won't let me grow my hair long. He yells at me if I wear a hat indoors. He says there's nothing wrong with me.
But I'm ugly. You see what I'm doing, don't you? I am making you hear me. The way I hear the world. But I won't do it too much, I promise.
I know what it can do to you.
I know what it can do to you to not have that hole there.
Humans need that hole, so things can get out.
Things get into my head and they bounce around and around until they find a way out.
My mother never talks about my ear. She hardly ever talks to me at all.
I believe she is sad, horrified. I think she blames herself.
Mostly, I think she wishes I was never born.

On a Friday afternoon in March, everything started changing.

Next to Bosten, my best friend was Emily Lohman. She was in eighth grade, too, and she was the only kid I knew who never made fun of me.
Her perfection amazed me.

It was the end of winter.
We lived by the sea.
When Bosten was younger, the three of us would walk from my parents' house down to the beach. We'd go beneath the pier and tip over rocks, catching crabs that we'd bring home in coffee cans dotted with rusty scabs; and then wonder at how they'd die so quickly in our care.
At sixteen, Bosten said he was too old to hunt for crabs with me and Emily anymore. I believed he still wanted to, sometimes, but there were other pressures on him now, other things my brother was looking for.
He was wild and rebellious, like a horse that would rather die than submit to being ridden. He could make me laugh, too. Real laughter that tickled me inside and made my eyes wet. And over the years, Bosten got too many bloody noses by sticking up for me.
I never cared about being picked on even a fraction of howmuch I cared about seeing my brother take a beating on my behalf.
There is something in the late winter gray of the Washington sky that makes you feel wet inside, buried under cold rotting leaves, like you can't ever get dry and warm.
My jeans and boots were soaked with seawater. Somehow, grains of sand had migrated inside my socks, settling in, between my numb toes.
Coming home with wet feet always meant trouble from Mom. I was already devising a plan to stop somewhere in the woods so I could throw away my socks.
"I hate winter," Emily said.
She walked on my left side; never said anything about that habit. We headed north, away from the pier, the black, saw-toothed water of the Puget Sound pushing me toward her whenever I had to escape the occasional wash of the sea.
"So do I." I watched as my words turned into fog in front of my face. "Here's a good one."
A fat, dark purple crab with yellow claws spidered out onto the muddy sand from between two jagged lava boulders.
There is a trick to catching crabs. If they see you, they will usually run and wedge themselves in impossible cracks between the rocks. And you need to get them quick, confidently, from behind and above, at a perfect angle of attack.
My angle of attack was off that day.
The crab pinched right into the tender flesh that webbed between my thumb and first finger.
I yelped like a Chihuahua with a stepped-on paw and flailed my hand.
The crab went airborne toward the water.
Emily laughed.
I said, "Shit!"
Then I laughed, too.
She was the only person, besides Bosten, that I was never ashamed about anything in front of.
We walked across a jagged field of gray and white driftwood, toward a line of dark trees where Bosten and his best friend, Paul Buckley, had built a plywood fort with me two summers before. The fort was half-buried in the ground, a subterranean bunker that protected us from everything we imagined was out there.
It began to rain.
Emily tipped her coffee can at the water's edge.
"I'm letting them go," she said.
We only had two. But they were big ones.
I zipped my jacket all the way up and pulled the wool cap down on my head until it made a horizon of black just at the top of my eyes.
I sighed. "Let's get under the trees, Em. My mom ..."
"It wasn't supposed to rain today."
"Welcome to winter."
We hid in the fort, next to each other on a stolen redwood picnic bench, and I could feel the tap-tapping of the rain through the damp wood as I sat on my hands to make them warm.
It was Friday afternoon. There is a kind of drunken happiness that kids our age feel on Friday afternoons.
I needed to wipe my nose, and every so often the sound of the rain encircled me. And I listened.

"So. Next year. High school. You ever think about that, Stick?"
Most of the kids around Point No Point dreamed of things like growing up or places like California.
I sighed. "I won't have any friends. I'll be beaten up regularly"
Emily laughed. She knew I wasn't really afraid. "You need to learn how to fight."
I couldn't hear what she said, because of the rain and how we sat. It sounded like something about burning and night.
"If you just beat up one of those key guys, nobody would ever give you crap again," she said. "Look at you, Stick. You're the tallest kid in eighth grade."
"You keep a list of key guys?"
She laughed.
I shifted. My hand got a splinter in it.
She never made me nervous.
"I think I need to get home. Bosten and me are going to the basketball game."
"That's what I mean," she said. "You should play basketball. I've seen you play."
"I'm no good."
"Don't be dumb."
"Want to come with us?"
She smiled. She had a way of smiling that said no musically.
Emily didn't like going to high school games. And Bosten and I never played sports on teams with other kids, but we'd go see the games because Paul was on the team.
I began unlashing the rawhide ties on my boots.
"I need to throw away my socks," I explained.
She knew what my mother was like at times.
My feet were pale. They looked exposed and startled, like those salamanders without eyes you find living in the permanent night of sunless caves. And when I leaned forward to stretch that second sock away from my skin, Emily did something that would have made me run and scream in anger if it had been anyone else but her--or Bosten.
She pushed the edge of my cap up with the tips of two fingers and touched my ear.
The place on the side of my head where a normal boy's ear would be.
She'd never done that before.
And when I jerked like I'd been shot, she pulled her hand away and quickly said, "Sorry."
"What are you doing?" I couldn't help sounding annoyed. People don't touch me. I could feel it, the sound came around the other side and it mixed with the lightness of her fingertips and swirled, trapped, inside my head.
It made me shake.
"I'm sorry, Stick. I just--"
I tied my boots so tight they hurt my bare feet.
I couldn't look at her; I was too embarrassed.
And she was perfect.

There was nothing between me and Emily that wasn't held steady by the anchor of our friendship.
I didn't think about girls the way other boys did. I didn't know that either of us was ready for that. We liked catching crabs and hiding in Bosten's fort.
Kids in eighth grade liked nipping at you. Worse than cornered crabs, even if you weren't missing any parts.
And for some reason, Emily wasn't like that. She never put up with the kids with claws.
But that day, Emily planted a miracle in me.
STICK, Copyright 2011 by Andrew Smith. All rights reserved. For information, address Feiwel and Friends, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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