Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happy About After Ever After

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
4Q 4P; Audience: M/J

I laughed and cried my way through Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, and I was eager to enter that world again. I was not disappointed. When we last saw Jeffrey, he was a five-year-old fresh out of the hospital tackling his brother with a great big hug. It seemed as though he was out of the woods, and readers were left with a picture of a happy family celebrating his brother Steven's graduation from eighth grade. But what happened after that? Now we know. After Ever After jumps to Jeffrey's own eighth grade year, when his graduation prospects are a little more tenuous than his brother's. After included two more years of leukemia. After included chemotherapy. After included learning to cope with the after-effects of that chemotherapy: he's slower to process things than he used to be, he has trouble paying attention, mathematical concepts slip from his brain as quickly as a monkey eats a banana, and his drop foot keeps tripping him up.

Now Jeff is crushing on the new girl (Lindsey) and wondering if she's crushing
on him too. Now Jeff is trying to keep his best friend and fellow cancer survivor (Tad) from imploding, exploding, or causing all kinds of mayhem with his take-no-prisoners attitude. Now Jeff is enduring hours of tutoring each week in the hopes it will help him pass the state math test, because if he doesn't pass, he won't graduate. Now Jeff is missing his lifeline Steven, who is off playing drums in Africa. And just like then, nothing is going to keep Jeff down for long.


Now Jeff is every bit as captivating and indomitable as he was eight years ago, and it's a pure pleasure to catch up with him again. Just as he did in Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, Sonnenblick shows a deft touch in blending the lines between humor and and tears. Jeff is a real kid. At times he's a little more mature than most boys his age, and given what he's been through, that's hardly surprising. But he's also an awkward, insecure, slightly goofy thirteen-year-old who sometimes puts his foot in his mouth and makes bad decisions. He's utterly charming, and I can't think of many readers who won't enjoy getting to know or get reacquainted with him.

A few of the things I really liked:

  • Jeffrey's determination and courage, which brings me to:
  • the training scenes in the gym (Jeff would make a great personal trainer)
  • Jeff learning what this girl thing is all about
  • Jeff's friendship with Tad, with all its bickering and truth-telling and deep understanding
  • that to balance Jeff's glass half-full character, Tad is dark and prickly and not always likeable
  • lines like "Lindsey has a sprig of mistletoe over her bedroom door. Just sayin'."
  • Jeffrey's journal articles and (unsent) emails to Steven: he writes as affectingly as Steven did
  • Jeff. You just can't help liking this kid.

I was under the impression that the effects of cancer treatment on young children is fairly recent research, so I was a little surprised to discover just how much this book focuses on that. I gather that Jordan Sonnenblick had both a student who really influenced him in the writing of this book and Drums and some nurses who encouraged him to write about the issue. It's certainly something new in YA literature, and I'm sure it's welcome to the patients and families who want people to know that the cancer story isn't necessarily over after a patient goes into remission.

I'm looking forward to introducing both Steven and Jeff to my younger teens and sharing their stories with them.

(For my take on Sonnenblick's Notes from a Midnight Driver, see this post.)

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