Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm behind!

Just thought I'd write a quick note to say that I have at least six books to blog about (off the top of my head: Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature; Skin; Epic; The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, possibly Neverwhere; and ummm...I know there's something else hiding in my bag). I was doing well when I first started my post on Evolution..., but I had to stop, and then came the ALAN workshops and Thanksgiving, and when I started to work on it again, well, it wasn't pretty. It's a shame I'm struggling so much with it, because the book is really good. So if my eventual post doesn't do it justice, please take my word for it: it's really worth reading. I'm hoping the creative juices flow a little more smoothly for the rest of them!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Skinny on SKIN

Skin by Adrienne Maria Vrettos
5Q 3P J/S (for those who need to know, language could be an issue for some)

Karen and Donnie aren't just brother and sister, they're allies. For as long as Donnie can remember, Karen has been there for him. When things got bad between their parents, they'd sit out on the steps (sometimes for hours) while the battle raged inside. Karen would always distract him and keep him company. She's there for him in other ways, too. Donnie is not exactly a popular kid. As he says, he and his friends are "the end of the line...the ones people look at and think, At least I'm not them." Instead of trying to steer clear of her nerdy little brother, Karen often lets him hang with her. She's his best friend.

The first signs of trouble appear about the time that Donnie and his family head to the lake for the summer. That's the first time that Karen refuses to eat. When they stop at a roadside diner, Karen's mother tries to tempt her with fries. Karen throws them out the window of the moving car. Still, nobody actually thinks there's a problem. Karen's just being a moody teenager. On the other hand, when Dad says he has to go back to work in the middle of the summer, they pretty much know that something's wrong. But just as with Karen's eating habits, it's easier to pretend that everything's okay. And actually, things are pretty good for Donnie. After all, he gets to hang out with Karen and her (really hot) best friend Amanda all summer long, and they have a blast together. Life is good, even if Dad's not there.

But then summer ends, and the good times end, too.

Donnie is a good at convincing himself that things are okay. His friends are jerks who don't really like him? Well, at least he isn't eating lunch alone. Dad doesn't come home anymore? Well, at least he calls. Karen's not eating? Well, at first, Donnie tries to pretend it's not a problem. But even he isn't that good at pretending. He can't ignore the dinner-time battles. He can't ignore how it is affecting Karen's friendship with Amanda. He can't ignore Karen's hospitalizations. He can't ignore the tension in the house. He can't ignore that he's turning invisible as far as his parents are concerned. But most of all, he can't ignore the fact that his best friend and ally is dieting herself into nothingness until she's going...going...gone.


I was really moved by this book. It's another one that made my heart hurt. I also got really angry at times. It made me realize how important it is to remember that a crisis for one family member is a crisis for all of them, even if (as in this case) siblings seem to be handling things well on the surface. In the end, I don't know who I felt worse for, Karen or Donnie. I know I wanted to shake them both, and I know I wanted to hug them both even harder. This is a beautifully written book and an achingly painful, poignant read.

Adrienne Vrettos has a web site, a blog, and a MySpace page. She also has a new book coming out. If it's anything close to as good as Skin, it'll be another winner. Here's a link to chapter one of Sight.


I've seen dead things before. I know a dead thing looks smaller than when it was alive. My sister looks like she could fold inside a paper cup. (p. 3)

I hate to see Mom like this. She's like an open wound waiting for salt. (p. 66)

Karen and Mom have been fighting and making up every other day. One day they're screaming at each other, and the next Karen's practically in Mom's lap while she makes tiny braids in Karen's hair. It's like there's a hiccup in the way time works, and they can only live the same two days over and over again...[They] have been circling each other all night...Mom watches Karen closely, and Karen pretends not to notice. I think Mom is having some sort of out-of-body experience. She walks around like she doesn't recognize our house or her family, and what she does see puts dark shadows on her face. (p. 113)

I'm becoming invisible. Every day more and more light shines through me...Once I realized that I was becoming invisible, once I realized that no one really noticed me anymore, I stopped fighting it. (pp. 119-120)

Mom and Karen are still at the table in the kitchen. An hour ago I could tell by the way Karen kept rearranging the rice on her plate that they'd end of sitting like this, Mom's plate empty and Karen's heavy with cold food. When she first got back from the hospital, I felt like I was part of a football team made up of all the people set on keeping her well. Her nutritionist. Her doctor. Her therapist. Mom. Dad. And me-the one that no one had asked to join the team, but who kept showing up to practice. I pictured us all in team jerseys standing firmly with arms crossed in front of us, daring Karen's sickness to try to get past. I thought we'd be strong enough. (p. 121)

When [Karen's] here and we all eat together, every bite is like your teeth don't just cut into the food, they cut into everything that's wrong in this house, and the taste can choke you. (p. 155)

I cheered when Donnie finally yelled, "This is happening to me too, you know!" Everyone around him, from his parents to his teachers, seem so oblivious to the fact that Donnie needs help and support, too. It took a long time for Donnie to stand up for himself and let people know that he is not invisible. If people aren't going to be there for him, I'm relieved that he's showing signs of being there for himself.

My booktalk can be found here.