Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brooks, Kevin. Dawn. Chicken House, 2009. 256 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0-545-06090-5. This book is intended for grades 8 and up, or ages 14 and up, depending on reading level. This book contains several examples of graphic language and situations. (3 1/2 stars out of 4).

I will admit that up until now, I had not read any Kevin Brooks. He leans toward the older side of what I teach (5-8), and his content is known to be mature. But his latest novel, Dawn, looked intriguing because when I searched it on the internet, I learned that in the UK (Brooks’ home), the novel is titled Killing God. I got hooked by the alternate title, and in fact, the protagonist does contemplate killing God. Fortunately for the reader, Dawn Bundy contemplates much more than that, and the richly woven narrative strikes to the heart of every teenager who has ever thought too much about stuff. Unfortunately, Dawn cannot focus on healing thoughts, only on darkness, symbolized in her tortured mind by a cave. This lyrical, moving, fresh novel is at times a psychological thriller, but it mostly serves as a portrait of the products of drug, alcohol, and sexual abuse, and the strength necessary to rise above those debilitating realities. Kevin Brooks lives up to his reputation both as a YA author who tackles tough issues and as a gifted writer and storyteller.

Dawn Bundy has just turned fifteen, and she has nothing to celebrate. She has no friends to speak of and claims she wants none. She has no hobbies except to listen to the alternative band The Jesus and Mary Chain, and since her Dad left two years ago, she has no company at home; Mom is a pill-popping alcoholic who lives in a haze: “Whisky and coffee is what she drinks. Whisky in black coffee. The whisky keeps her drunk, the coffee keeps her awake . . . And on top of that there’s the prescribed antidepressants, and the occasional joint, and the unprescribed sleeping pills . . . So it’s not really surprising that her eyes are kind of glazed most of the time” (37). Dawn wants to kill God because she feels He ruined her father. Dad has always been an addict and an alcoholic who lives on the edge, but when he is born again, he transforms into a stranger whom Dawn does not recognize: “It was almost as if he’d become some kind of born-again alcoholic. Like he’d found whatever he was looking for—he’d found his salvation—through drinking again, only now it was all mixed up with God, like some kind of abominable cocktail . . . it just seemed to suck all the Dadness out of him” (54-55). Although two girls have approached Dawn about doing more girlfriend activities and hanging out, Dawn resists. She lives mostly in her head, where she hides a terrible secret from her past that threatens to blow her apart.

This novel is not for the faint of heart middler, and graphic language and content abound. However, there are no graphic scenes of violence or sex; any episode of Law & Order SVU is far more disturbing than the concrete images in this novel. Dawn is a first-rate book by a talented writer. Mr. Brooks effectively weaves rock lyrics into Dawn’s already quirky narrative to produce an effective portrait of a troubled soul. He trots out the old English 101 trick of making lists to paint a picture, and Dawn’s lists are at once funny and tragic. Through keen characterization, due to her low self-image, Dawn only truly sees herself physically through others; this is particularly effective when she is with “friends” Taylor and Mel. Also, Mr. Brooks cleverly captures the existential mood of the characters by frequently having characters repeatedly ask each other, “Are you OK?” Although the song lyrics tend to be a bit pretentious (to me, probably not to a young teen) and the ending is not overly satisfying, neither issue detracts from what is an excellent effort. Dawn by Kevin Brooks is well-executed novel for older middlers who like to be disturbed while they are entertained.


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