Two brother books are haunting me today.
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley and Stick by Andrew Smith are each their own story and yet, having read them one after the other, they are getting kind of wrapped up in my head with each other.
Each one is very much its own self – there is no confusing or blending the two – but I would think they’d appeal to the same readers. Anyone looking for beautifully written realistic fiction with interesting formats and written about, and for, teen boys should check these books out.
Where Things Come Back, the 2012 Printz Award winner is primarily Cullen Witter’s story, focusing on the sudden disappearance of his younger brother Gabriel. The anxiety, worry and grief are deftly handled so that we feel Cullen’s pain, but it never sinks into unbearable angst and is never melodramatic. (Incidentally, Cullen’s friend, Lucas Cader, is of a Samwise Gamgee calliber). A second part of the story twists and intertwines around Cullen’s summer on a seemingly unrelated path told through the eyes of various other characters. Cullen often drifts into reveries… but I do hope the ending was real.
Stick is told by Stark McClellan, aka Stick. He is missing an ear – altering his hearing and perception of the world shown by effective spacing and pauses in the text. Stick and his brother Bosten lean on each other to survive the vicious abuse they suffer at the hands of their parents. Each boy is learning about love in his own way – Stick with Emily, and Bosten with Paul. A visit with their aunt Delia in southern California provides a taste of what life without fear could be and opens their eyes to options. When the beatings get worse and Bosten runs away, Stick steals his father’s car to follow him and to search for a brighter future.
In both these books, the relationship between the brothers is quite moving, and crucial to the plot.
It makes sense that a brother is significant person to a boy. Brothers often measure themselves against each other. They expect to always know each other. Brothers share a common history. They share intimate moments – both good and bad – and share secrets. A boy can feel secure in loving his brother whole-heartedly.
And, as both of these books show, a brother leaves a big hole when he’s gone.
Sarah Wones Tomp
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK