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.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Schutz, Samantha. You Are Not Here. Push, 2010. 292 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0-545-16911-0. This book is for grades 8 and up, or ages 13 and up, depending on reading level. This book contains graphic situations and language (2 stars out of 4).

I have featured the chasm between guys and gals in this column before, and few if any discerning readers would argue that some books are targeted to males and some to females, while the remainder are targeted to the largest possible audience with money to spend. In my opinion, You Are Not Here by Samantha Schutz is clearly a “girl book.” The protagonist loves her tragic figure even though he does not satisfy her emotionally or socially, and I do not know why. When I was a teenager, you actually had to be nice to potential mates if you wanted them to like you and hang out with you. I am definitely from Mars, and that may contribute to my ignorance, but I think my lack of understanding says something about what people are willing to tolerate for the illusion of love. Annaleah sacrifices her friends and her life for an occasional rendezvous with an unpredictable (but charming and cute) guy who practically ignores her most of the time. Is that what we are reduced to? Is that social networking’s legacy? Is that the gnarled fruit the Blackberry has yielded. I sure hope not.

Annaleah and Brian would have ended up together—Annaleah is sure of it; well, almost sure. Their relationship, the first fully physical one for Annaleah, had its pros and cons to be sure, but Annaleah was sure she loved Brian, even though he seemed to treat her offhandedly at best; even though he excluded her from his life; even though he had no problem sleeping with her and then standing her up without proper explanation; even though Annaleah’s friends neither knew nor trusted him. Brian was practically a shadow to everyone but Annaleah, who had projected a whole life and future onto him. So Annaleah is devastated when Brian suddenly dies and leaves Annaleah with a thousand “what ifs.” What if they were meant for each other and now Annaleah’s fate and future have been shattered? What if Annaleah was wasting her time with a person who obviously showed no commitment to her? What if she can never love again? What if the grief, not able to be shared with anyone, never ends? What if her father never returns, and she can never resolve her relationships with anyone? What if her friends give up on her and move on without her? Although Annaleah acknowledges that she is a more experienced person due to her grief, she cannot help but define herself through the prism of hopeless love: “I don’t / have the energy to do anything besides watch TV, read, and visit Brian . . . Being alone somehow seems safer . . . My perspective is changed. / I don’t / think I can come back from that” (144). Annaleah must find a way to grieve and move on, or she will forever be mired in the malaise that seems to permeate every crack in her imperfect world.

Although in the past I had been wary of prose-poem novels, I was heartened over the last few years by such fine selections as Burg’s All the Broken Pieces and by Nelson’s Carver: A Life in Poems, so I am no longer afraid to read them. However, if the author chooses poetry as a medium, I expect the poetry to be tight and effective, and I was disappointed on both counts with Samantha Schutz’s new work You Are Not Here. Her use of concrete imagery to create setting and background was incomplete, so I never felt a true sense of place. I saw no particular reason to tell this story in verse, especially when it is neither pointedly descriptive nor freshly told. The narrator is believable as a depressed teenager distraught over the unexpected death of her occasional lover and even more occasional boyfriend, but I never get to know Annaleah well enough, because of the sparseness of full development that poetry invites, to know why Brian moved her so much; I thought he was a jerk from beginning to end. As a male reader, I was furious that Brian elicited so much grief from Annaleah that he did not deserve. Annaleah seems like an attractive, friendly, desirable young woman; why did she devote so much time to a loser? Is she trying to recreate her father in her life? Does she expect to be abandoned by Brian like her father abandoned her 15 years earlier? Does being cute really matter that much? Am I just being jealous? Like the proverbial question about how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know. For the record, the fact that I do not think the book features effective, engaging poetry does not mean my students will not like it; I will recommend it to my Lurlene McDaniel crowd: older middle schoolers who are looking for a romance and don’t mind crying.

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