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.