Monday, June 18, 2007

I'm With Murphy and Stein

What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
5Q 4P, J/S

Just to catch you up on things, in the prequel (What My Mother Doesn't Know) to this book, Sophie finds her true love...several times. The magic dies with Dylan, the first guy. Chaz, her chat room friend, turns out to be the kind of guy you're warned about when people start talking about the hazards of Internet romances. And then there's Murphy. Murphy...the guy who is such a nerd that when someone does something stupid, the kids say, "You're such a Murphy!" Not the kind of a guy most teens want to be seen with, including Sophie. But there's more to Murphy than meets the eye, which Sophie discovers when she goes to the museum to see her favorite painting and finds Murphy there, too. Now this is true love.

What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know takes up where the first leaves off. Winter break is over, which means that Sophie and Murphy have to go back to school. What will Sophie do when she gets to school? Will she sit with her friends and pretend she doesn't know Murphy, or will she put her social life in jeopardy by joining Murphy at his lunch table? Murphy is sure he knows the answer. Any girl in her right mind would never be seen with him. So he is shocked when Sophie does it - she sits down with him! In front of the entire cafeteria! The room gets dead silent. All eyes focus on them. And then they turn away, as though the sight is too disgusting to tolerate. Even Sophie's best friends turn away. They refuse to be seen with her. Sophie and Murphy are determined to stay strong and stay together. But is their love strong enough to survive being ostracized, teased, and harassed?

There's another wrinkle, too, and Sophie doesn't know anything about this one. Well, she knows that Murphy has been invited to participate in an art class at Harvard. But she doesn't know the details. This is a mind-blowing experience for him. Not only is he Robin* here, not Murphy, but nobody thinks he's a Murphy, either. Here, everybody thinks he's just another kid. In fact, they seem to think he's another college-aged kid. And here, girls call him "babe" and invite him to join them for a snack after class. Would that be cool with Sophie? Maybe she'd think it was fine. After all, some of the guys are in the group, too. But would she be fine with the nude models? Would she be fine with the way Murphy thinks about those nude models? Sophie always says that "sometimes (she) just knows things", but maybe this is the kind of thing she'd be better off not knowing.

I love Sonya Sones's writing. With most verse novels, I read them and wonder why the author didn't just write it in prose instead. But when Sonya Sones writes a free verse novel (as all of her books are so far), I never find myself thinking that. It's very difficult to make characters in a free verse novel as three-dimensional as they are in well-written prose novels, but if anyone can do it, Sones can. She also develops the story arc well, so each poem builds on the one before. But the beauty of her writing is that she uses the form so naturally. She uses similes and metaphors (not all verse novels do that very well), and the cadence of the lines fit the character and situation. There's nothing artificial or forced about it, and the stories are deeply involving. This one is no exception.

*Robin is Murphy's first name.

Musings: Some lines I especially liked

    Murphy describes himself:
    Let's face it
    I'm the type of guy
    who doesn't even have any buddies
    on my buddy list

    When We Finally Come Up for Air

    Sophie's eyes/are smiling into mine.

    And it's amazing, really,/because all she has to do is look at me

    and my lump of a nose/straightens out

    the muscles on my arms/start to sprout

    the circles fade/under my eyes,

    my ears shrink down/to a normal person's size...

    If only everyone else/could see

    what Sophie sees/when she looks at me

    From I Crack Open the Front Door

    My parents are great listeners./Which is why I never tell them/anything.

    From Tuesday Morning

    "Why didn't you pick up?" Rachel says.
    "We were way worried about you."
    "And we still are," Grace says.
    "Friends don't let friends commit social suicide."

    And when I hear these words,
    my heart detonates in my chest.

    From I'm Just About to Leap on Their Offer
    (note: Students from Murphy's college art class have invited him to join them in an after-class outing.)

    And a second later, I'm racing down the stairs,
    my feet in a Road-Runnery blur,
    when this real bizarre feeling comes over me --
    like I'm the male equivalent of Cinderella,

    and if I don't make it to Mom's Volvo
    before the clock strikes twelve,
    it's gonna turn back into a pumpkin.

    And *I'm*
    gonna turn back
    into Murphy.

    From Saturday Afternoon

    I've been lying on my bed for hours,
    feeling as demolished as Van Gogh must have felt
    right before he slashed his own ear off

    My Heart Catapults Up Into My Throat

    Then boomerangs
    right back down
    into my feet.

    I never knew a person could feel
    like jumping for joy
    and jumping off a bridge

    at the exact

    There's a section in the book where Murphy feels that he has to break up with Sophie for her own sake. It's killing him to think about it, so he tries to put it off by avoiding her. Sophie lets that go for just so long before she forces a confrontation. I love what happens next: the two of them sit side by side on Murphy's bed, but instead of talking, they write their own little graphic novel, drawing the story out and using a few words here and there when necessary. Sometimes a picture is worth 1000 words, and picturing this scene in my head was worth 2000.A couple of lines from this scene:

    From So I Start Working on the Second Frame

    Even though
    just *thinking* about doing that

    makes him feel like
    he's having open-heart surgery --

    with*out* an anesthetic.

    From When I Finish the Girl's Face

    And I draw the boy,
    standing at the window,
    watching the girl walk away --
    a small figure hunched against an icicled world.

    And finally:

    from I Try to Tell Myself

    And *I'm* happy *for* her.
    I really am.

    It's just that, until now,
    I never realized

    how sad
    being happy

    could make a guy

I don't know about Murphy's girlfriend, but I know I loved this book.

Edited to add a link to Sonya Sones's web site. Not only does she provide a biography (she's worked with some very famous people) and information about her books and writing, she's also generous enough to provide a list of other author's books she thinks you'll enjoy. (She suggests the books for readers twelve and up. I'll add that they cover a range of ages, from books for younger teens to YA books for older teens and adults.)

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