What does it mean to be family? Do you like your family? What would you do for them if you had to? If you pose these questions to teens, I think you’d get a wide range of responses—probably including some strong opinions on parents or siblings. If you posed the questions to the teen characters in the following novels, I think you would get some strong opinions as well. But their answers at the beginnings of the books will likely be different from those at the end. Perhaps the same might be said of your teens?
In Blood Wounds, Willa feels like her family is perfect. She lives with her mom, step-dad, and two step-sisters, and their blended family seems about as happy as families can get. Then an unthinkable tragedy changes everything—the father Willa has never known murders his new wife and daughters. Willa is faced with questions about her father and his crime, about the family she didn’t know, and about the hidden cracks in her blended family that explode in the face of a difficult situation. Throughout all of her confusion, Willa holds her own, and teens will probably relate to her angst.
Jennifer Brown takes on the sibling relationship in her latest novel, Perfect Escape, which has a brother and sister taking off on a cross-country trip only to find that the other isn’t quite what they’d always thought. The book takes on mental illness, cheating, and more, but it is the relationship between Kendra and Grayson that takes center stage in this emotional novel. Brown writes in an author’s note of her own siblings. She says,
“The sibling relationship is one of the most intimate and complex relationships that could ever exist. Who else in your life can you have, over a lifetime, utterly despised, thrown shoes at, tattled on, cried over, laughed with, taken baths with, shared clothes with, cussed at, fought with, and loved?”
Kendra finds that her attempt to foil her brother’s “issues” by being the perfect child wasn’t the perfect plan, and perhaps Grayson has more to offer than she thought.
I don’t want to leave out extended family in this look at family-related fiction. In Curveball, Jordan Sonnenblick brings his usual blend of humor and drama to Peter’s freshman year of high school. Everything seems to be changing—he can’t play baseball anymore after an injury and his grandfather seems to be in serious decline mentally—and it’s all secret. Peter doesn’t want to disappoint his best friend by telling him that he won’t be on the team this year (or ever), and Peter’s grandfather has sworn him to secrecy about his episodes. Neither of the issues are going to go away, though, and Peter has to figure out when and how to let secrets out.
Teen readers will leave these books pondering the sacrifices they make for their family and what their families have done for them.
Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer. January 2011. 9780547496382. Gr 8-12
Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick. March 2012. 9780547496382. Gr 7-10
Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown. July 2012. 9780316185578. Gr 9-12