Tuesday, December 11, 2012

“Cracked” by K.M. Walton

Age: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction

I find myself drawn to novels about young adults in mental institutions. In fact, I did a whole project on the subject while working on my master’s degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Chatham College. Though I never spent time in a mental hospital while a teenager, I have struggled with depression and anxiety since high school and relate to the stories of people who have reached the point of suicidal behavior. Reading stories of others, even fictional others, who have suffered make me feel more normal. There are many good books on the subject, and I have just discovered another one. I recently attended a young adult author panel at my local independent bookstore (Doylestown Bookshop) where I chatted for a while with author K.M. Walton. She told me about her book Cracked, in which a bully nicknamed “Bull” and his victim, Victor, both end up in a mental institution at the same time. The book is told in dual perspective, jumping from Bull to Victor every other chapter. This is an excellent way to tell this story, and perhaps the only way that would be effective. By being in both boys’ heads, we can understand each of them and see the similarities in their lives before they do. We see Bull’s miserable home life that has lead him to bullying Victor. We see Victor’s uncaring parents that lead him to attempt suicide. When the boys end up roommates at the hospital, we know why each of them is there, but we get to watch as they slowly figure each other’s stories out.

What I find most amazing in this book is Walton’s ability to make Bull’s character so sympathetic right away. His story is arguably the more tragic of the two, and I found myself torn between wanting him to find happiness and protection and wanting to slap him for taking his sucky life out on someone else. The author writes each character in such a way that we can feel like we know and understand them. Though the story progresses in a somewhat predictable way (the boys find a peace between each other in the end and have a better life waiting for them), I enjoyed the whole read. I don’t know how Walton managed to write the voices of troubled teenage boys so well, but they seemed liked real teens you could find at a local high school. Whether you have had personal experience or not with mental illness, bullying, or abuse, you should read this book to remind yourself that people who seem fine are often crying out for someone to listen. Maybe you can help.

Bibliographic Information:
Walton, K.M. Cracked. New York: Simon Pulse, 2012.

“Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” by David Sedaris (illustrations by Ian Falconer)

Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction, short stories

Since I have enjoyed two of David Sedaris’ other titles (Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and Me Talk Pretty One Day) and laughed through two of his live readings, I thought I would like Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. As a children’s writer myself, the idea of animal fables especially peaked my interest. Oh, this’ll be great! I thought. He’s totally going to turn animal tales on their head and it’ll be hilarious! I could not have been more disappointed. I kept reading story after story in this collection, waiting for them to be funny. I kept telling myself, Okay, that one was weird, but the next one…the next one will be when I laugh! Oh optimism, the unfortunate force that keeps one trudging through something despite all sense telling one to stop and spend time differently. I read all of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and came away disgusted and disappointed. Some of the stories were flat out gross, while the rest were just…well…not funny. I tried to imagine them in Sedaris’s voice, but still couldn’t find anything to chuckle about. I can’t help but wonder if I missed something here. I can’t even recommend this to my close friend who is a huge Sedaris fan but avoided this collection due to its fictional nature. Skip this one.

Bibliographic Information:
Sedaris, David. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.