Jordan Sonnenblick: Perfectly Imperfect Heroes

My son and I have recently discovered Jordan Sonnenblick’s books. It wouldn’t be wrong to say I’ve/we’ve been on a Sonnenblick-binge of reading. Here are the books we’ve fallen in love with so far:

The heroes of all three books are middle-school boys, in a very real middle-school world. This puts these books in the category my son doesn’t usually hook into. He’s not that big on reality or angst when he reads. But Sonnenblick caught him-and me–with one of the most important qualities for my son’s reading–humor. It is pretty much impossible to read a chapter in these novels without laughing out loud. Yes, sometimes, you want to cry, too, but the laughter is always coming along. At the perfect time.

As a writer, though, there’s another aspect of Sonnenblick’s books that I truly admire.

I have a critique partner who is brilliant at reminding us all to “make bad things happen” to our heroes. And Sonnenblick has skill down pat. He takes it a step further, though. He makes at least half of those bad things the hero’s fault.

San and Alex and Steven mean well. They mean soooo well. It’s an absolutely beautiful character flaw. Every time these boys get into a mess, and they get into plenty, they try to fix it, to clean it up. They have perfected the art of digging themselves deeper into a hole. They could dig through to China. None of the heroes are stupid or naive. They are great kids, with huge hearts, but life throws them a wrench, and–pretty much–they use that wrench to knock themselves over the head.

And here’s what that does to the reader. It has the reader completely rooting for San and Alex and Steven. I decided today that it’s kind of like that whole I Love Lucy feeling, when you know that another bad thing is going to happen, except you can only root for Lucy so much, because–you know–her goal is to get on Ricky’s show, so mostly you just get a stomach ache worrying. No stomach ache in Sonnenblick’s books, because the kids’ goals are always great ones, and you are just so proud of them for going after those goals, no matter how hard things get.

Okay, maybe that’s the Mom reaction–the pride. I’m pretty sure the feeling I get of “Oh, Honey,” and wanting to pull the kids into a big hug is also just the Mom reaction. My son? I think  he’s feeling a complete camaraderie with these boys—watching them put themselves out there, risk making fools of themselves, and often succeeding—and thinking, “Oh, yeah. Definitely yeah.”

Which, really, is what books for kids and teens should be all about.

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20 thoughts on “Jordan Sonnenblick: Perfectly Imperfect Heroes

  1. You know how much I love Jordan’s books too. And you’re right, I think it is that I Love Lucy kind of feeling. The three books you mentioned here are, I’m pretty sure, considered YA. He’s got some middle grade ones too, the Dodger series. I have the first one of those and enjoyed it, albeit differently.

    Perfectly imperfect – what a goal to strive for with our heroes.

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  2. I agree. I also think that a key to Sonnenblick’s success in these books is that the boys feel like real middle school boys. He’s amazing at boy voice.

    You and your son should keep an eye out for After Ever After (Drums, Girls sequel featuring Jeff in 8th grade). It’s due out in Feb.

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    • beckylevine says:

      You just made me SO happy–Jeff makes it to 8th grade! Yes!! We’ll be watching. Thanks!

      I think the boys do feel real. It’s almost as though I’m getting an insight into my son’s head/personality–which he does a decent job at tucking away these days. 😉

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  3. Becky,
    I think it was called Silverfin–part of the James Bond series.It was a ho-hum kind of book, judging from the time it took him to finish (weeks). When he gets a good book, he lives for the moment he can jump into those pages. Perhaps “Zen” will do that for him. I told him it was about a kid drummer, and his head snapped up. (He’s a drummer, too.) I’ll keep you posted.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Jana, I’ve seen that series but haven’t tried them. Hope he likes Zen. No, Zen’s not the one about the drummer, though–That’s Drugs, Girls, & Dangerous Pie. The drummer’s in Midnight Driver, too, but as a secondary character.

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    • beckylevine says:

      They are completely laugh-out-loud funny. Just a heads up, there’s some pretty tough stuff about a sick younger brother in Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie–wonderfully done,and still lots of humor, but you might want to read it, too, in case your son wants to talk about it. 🙂

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  4. Sonneblick does do an excellent job of combining Serious Issues with enough humor to make them go down. What I adore is how fresh and unusual the situations are while remaining believable. (Notes From the Midnight Driver was hysterically funny and impossibly sad at the same time.)

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  5. solvangsherrie says:

    I just finished reading Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie and now I want to read every single book by this author. The voice is PERFECT, the book is amazing, the story is wonderful, but never too mushy. As soon as I finished it I handed to my son and said “You HAVE to read this!” What a great book!

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    • beckylevine says:

      Let me know what he thinks. The voice is similar in the rest of his books I’ve read–you may want to read them first, there are a couple of things you may just want to know about before he digs in, but they’re all wonderful!

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  6. MN says:

    I liked Zen, and I loved Drums, Girls… too. I’ve just finished (and blogged about) Happily Ever After, and it gave me just as good a feeling as Drums did. I just wanted to point out, though, that while I absolutely agree that Sonnenblick nails middle school boys, he’s not quite as on target with high school boys. In Notes From a Midnight Driver, Alex is sixteen. He just *sounds* like he’s thirteen.

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