Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On Keeping One's Distance, Purposely and Not

I'm really far behind in posting on books I read in January and February, so I'm going to try to toss up a few slightly shorter posts. (Of course, with me, slightly shorter generally means five or six paragraphs instead of seven or eight! So shorter is definitely a relative term!)

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford (4Q 3P) has already gotten all kinds of attention in blogs and review journals. It seems to be one of the hot books of the season so far. While I enjoyed reading it, I don't think it's going to be on my top ten of 2010 (technically, it's from late 2009, but I read it in January).

Bea is accustomed to moving, but this time, things are different. Nobody wants to start a new school in their senior year. And her mother is acting very strangely. She's crying at the drop of a hat and fixating on chickens. When Bea refuses to cry when a gerbil that isn't even theirs dies, her mother calls her a robot for being so heartless. Bea decides being robot-like isn't such a bad idea. Things hurt less when you don't feel anything. so she decides not to feel anything. She meets Jonah at school, where she's purposely keeping her distance from everyone. Jonah's been called Ghost Boy for years, both because of his albino-like appearance and because he keeps such a low profile that he's practically invisible. For some reason, Jonah will talk to Bea, and he's the one person she lets into her life in any meaningful way. Jonah finally reveals the tragedy that's been the driving force in his life: the death of his mother and twin brother in a car accident. When Jonah discovers that his father has been lying to him about the accident and its aftermath for years, he and Bea go on a seemingly hopeless quest to find the one thing that can fill the hole in his life.


Bea and Jonah keep people at arm's length, and that's pretty much how I felt about them too. I didn't connect to them at the level I wanted to, even though Jonah's situation was infuriating and very sad. Bea's story might have been more compelling for me if it had continued to develop in the direction it seemed to be going. But ultimately, the issues surrounding her mother didn't hold together for me. I couldn't buy the reactions that resulted from the cause. I did like the use of the late-night radio show and its quirky loyal followers to give them a place they could fit in and be accepted. Those sections were a welcome relief from the cold, like cuddling up with an afghan and cocoa after being outside on a dreary February day.

Food for thought: Are Bea and Jonah good for each other? Is Jonah what Bea needed at the time, or did their friendship reinforce her robot responses to everyone else around her? Would it have been healthier for Jonah if Bea had encouraged him to handle his discovery of his brother and his father's decision differently? Are Jonah's actions at the end selfish or self-preservation?

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