What They Always Tell Us

What They Always Tell Us

4.2 35
by Martin Wilson
     
 

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JAMES AND ALEX have barely anything in common anymore—least of all their experiences in high school, where James is a popular senior and Alex is suddenly an outcast. But at home, there is Henry, the precocious 10-year-old across the street, who eagerly befriends them both. And when Alex takes up running, there is James’s friend Nathen, who unites the… See more details below

Overview

JAMES AND ALEX have barely anything in common anymore—least of all their experiences in high school, where James is a popular senior and Alex is suddenly an outcast. But at home, there is Henry, the precocious 10-year-old across the street, who eagerly befriends them both. And when Alex takes up running, there is James’s friend Nathen, who unites the brothers in moving and unexpected ways.


From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Set in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Wilson's searching debut maintains a level of urgency as it explores the bonds between two brothers. As the novel begins, high school junior Alex's half-hearted suicide attempt (he swallowed a bottle of household cleaner at a party) has left him ostracized at school and bewildered his parents; meanwhile, his older brother, James, a popular athlete, feels angry and ashamed. But James isn't all that connected to his emotions: when first met, he's in a motel room with a girlfriend and has had sex with her, but is "filled with a strong desire to be rid of her, for good. It always happens." Wilson follows the two brothers as the school year unfolds, Alex growing into himself and falling in love with one of James's male friends, James discovering compassion and acting on it. Well-observed details shore up the Southern backdrop, important for the social networks that bind the characters and inform their actions. Insightfully evoked, Alex, James and their friends will leave a lasting impression on readers. Ages 14-up. (Aug.)

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KLIATT - Myrna Marler
This story is told in alternating chapters from two points of view. One is that of 15-year-old Alex, who tried to commit suicide by drinking Pine-Sol at a party. His life was saved, but he cannot explain why he wanted to die except to say that he felt ignored by his friends. He is trying to recover and go on, but everyone now thinks he's a freaky weirdo. The other point of view is that of Alex's older brother, James: popular, athletic, attractive to girls, but emotionally disengaged from his family, especially Alex, and from girls. He decides not to date anymore because relationships are too complicated. Then Alex meets one of James's best friends, Nathen, who encourages him to join the track team and treats him like one of the guys. Before long, Alex and Nathen are involved in an intense friendship/affair. James doesn't understand the friendship and doesn't know about the affair, although eventually he hears rumors. Meanwhile, both boys get involved in the life of a mysterious neighbor boy whose mother is often absent and who has no visible means of support. Secret letters are delivered at midnight and strange cars pull up in the driveway. As the year progresses, Alex heals and becomes more self-confident and James matures and appreciates his brother more. The book explores issues of identity, but it is worth noting that the sex scenes between the two boys are more compelling than the sex scenes between James and his girlfriend, as if the author simply cannot imagine what attractions girls hold for men. The novel will be of particular interest to gay, lesbian and bisexual teens. Reviewer: Myrna Marler
VOYA - Jonatha Bayse
Brothers Alex and James are extremely different. James, the popular, smart, athletic one has no problem finding girlfriends or getting invited to the best parties. Alex, on the other hand, has started off his junior year with problems that weigh heavily upon him. His sadness is made apparent after a failed suicide attempt at a friend's party. Now no one will talk to Alex, including James. It is difficult for the people around Alex to understand why he would try to take his own life. He had everything going for him, and then it spiraled out of control. Nathan, one of James' friends, looks past the negativity that surrounds Alex and pushes Alex to become more involved. His support allows Alex to understand and embrace his uniqueness and begin the journey to find his inner strength. Wilson's debut novel does an excellent job of showing the tension with which siblings deal on a daily basis. He also does a great job of exploring controversial issues, such as suicide and homosexuality. By alternating chapters between Alex and James, the reader gets to see how these brothers affect one another. It also allows the reader to see both points of view, which is sometimes a rarity. Public and school libraries should seriously consider adding this book to their shelves, especially if they are trying to increase their gay/lesbian YA collection. Reviewer: Jonatha Bayse
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
Ever since sixteen-year-old Alex drank some Pine-Sol at Marty Miller's lake house party, his one time friends have shunned him, his parents have hovered over him, and his seventeen-year-old brother James seems profoundly embarrassed and uncomfortable about the whole thing. Certainly the "incident" has only made James even more eager to get out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for Duke University (he hopes) as soon as possible. But when a redemptive, mentoring friendship between Alex and James's friend Nathen turns into something deeper, James has to come to terms with what it means to be brothers. In alternating viewpoint chapters, Miller enters completely and convincingly into the viewpoint of each brother, chronicling their thoughts and feelings with meticulous, non-judgmental care and insight. He manages to make the most ordinary events—an early morning run, a casual conversation with an ex-girlfriend, a party to which one brother is invited and the other excluded—utterly riveting simply by the honesty with which every single moment is observed and recorded. The tone of the narration is quiet, the emotions understated, and yet readers will find themselves gripped, shaken, and transformed. Debut novels do not get much better than this. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
Bryce Lewis
Teen angst just got a much needed 21st-century perspective in this genuine story of two brothers and their struggle to come together throughout a turbulent school year. James was once close to his younger brother Alex, but things have changed. James, a senior, does not care to be associated with Alex, a loner trying to find his niche. James has his own issues to deal with: picking a college, going to parties, girls, and finding a way to stay sane in small-town Alabama. Alex must overcome his shaky past and the pressure to live up to his big brother's reputation. James and Alex discover the value of family and friendship in this powerful tale of self-acceptance and growing up. James and Alex's perspectives alternate through the chapters. Alex's chapters capture his loneliness and desire for social recognition while James's focus on his insecurities and concern for the future. Reviewer: Bryce Lewis
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

Alex and James are only one year apart, but the distance between these brothers is vast. James, a popular and talented senior, awaits news about his early admission to Duke, playing tennis and going to parties with his buddies on the weekends. Alex, a junior, is confused and disoriented after having chugged Pine-Sol at a party, lost all of his friends, and found himself secretly dating Nathen, one of his brother's best pals. The backdrop is Tuscaloosa, AL, where Alex knows his emerging sexual identity will never be accepted, and James fears he will be stuck forever if Duke turns him down. The boys wander their way through the school year fulfilling family obligations, befriending an odd and lonely neighbor boy, and navigating their way back to mutual affection after a period of mild estrangement. Wilson's novel offers a look inside the minds of both brothers, allowing readers to experience their parents, their school, and their town from two distinct points of view, confident and fearful, indifferent and melancholy, impatient and reflective. Some readers may feel that the book has a bit of a slow start, with some of the relationships only beginning to develop after page 100. They may come away wishing to have gotten to know the central characters more deeply, although the relationship between Alex and Nathen is touchingly realistic. In the end, this book may appeal to teens who are grappling with decisions about the future, the frustrations of family, and the choices that relationships require of us.-Nora G. Murphy, Los Angeles Academy Middle School

Kirkus Reviews
When this tender coming-of-age novel opens, Alex, a junior in high school, is profoundly alone. Ever since he swallowed Pine-Sol at a party, he's been considered an outcast, a loser, a freak. In contrast, his brother James is an athlete, a strong student and a charter member of the senior-class in-crowd. Yet underneath his one-of-the-guys persona, James also feels alone, constrained by the limited social scene of his Tuscaloosa high school, and ready to move on to the larger world of college. The brothers, once close, are awkward and uncomfortable with each other now, and how they begin the tenuous business of reconnecting is the stuff and substance of this somewhat overlong but nonetheless satisfying story. The main catalyst for their renewed rapport is James's friend Nathen, lamentably portrayed as a cardboard paragon of perfection, who encourages Alex to join the cross-country team and later develops other, more personal feelings for him as well. Smoothly written and psychologically astute, this story eloquently charts the cross-currents between social status, loyalty and brotherly love. (Fiction. 14 & up)
From the Publisher
“Martin Wilson’s What They Always Tell Us hears the voices of the young as they struggle toward adulthood. . . .”
—Richard Peck, Newbery Award–winning author

“In his beautifully realized first novel, Martin Wilson demonstrates a wonderful gift for finding the truth in human caring and for creating memorably multidimensional and engagingly sympathetic characters whom readers will welcome into their hearts.”
—Michael Cart, former president of the ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association and the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, July 28, 2008:
“Insightfully evoked, Alex, James and their friends will leave a lasting impression on readers.”

Starred Review, Booklist, November 15, 2008:
“This is a strong debut, and Wilson shows admirable control of a complicated story that in less-accomplished hands could have spun out of control.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375848926
Publisher:
Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
08/12/2008
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
156,957
File size:
0 MB
Age Range:
14 Years

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