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Thursday, March 1, 2012

The 10 p.m. Question, written by Kate De Goldi. Candlewick, Random House. 2010. $19.00 ages 12 and up

"Frankie also worked his way through many books at the City Library, but he did it at a leisurely pace and he mostly chose picture books. He didn’t care what anyone thought about this, but nor did he imagine anyone took the slightest notice. That was the great thing about the library. It was both teeming with people and very private. Everyone was either busy selecting books or returning them or was sprawled in a beanbag, lost in their own reading world."

It took me a while to read this book because I wanted to savor (and read again) the wonderful language chosen to tell it. I greatly admire Kate De Goldi's ability to deal with Frankie and his phobias, a highly eccentric cast of characters and the topic of depression in a way that is full of thoughtful finesse and a delicate touch. It is there, but it is never in your face and always handled in Frankie's terms. He is the youngest in the Parsons family and just coming to the understanding that Ma has some problems that are not easily solved. His father, his siblings and his aunts have come to terms with Ma's illness and her inability to leave the comfort and security of her home. Frankie is just beginning to question why:

"Not once had they ever discussed the startling fact of their family life: that their mother stayed permanently and irrevocably - and, who knows, maybe unnaturally - at home; that she had not left their property for nine years or more; that she seldom left the four safe walls of their house. They had never discussed the extremely odd fact that their mother had not, for nine years, been in a car, a bus, a shop, a movie theater, an airplane. That in this long time, she had never been to the beach, the library, the art gallery, the Aunties', the doctor, the dentist, a cafe, or a kebab house. How could they have never talked about this? Frankie could hardly believe it."

Sydney changes Frankie's world. Everything about her makes her unlike anyone he has ever met. She is perceptive and honest, and given to making Frankie think seriously about his family and his insular world:

"Telling Sydney everything had not magically eliminated, or even quieted, the rodent voice. It had not relieved him of any of the domestic tasks that he longed to hand over, or his great feeling of responsibility for Ma. Nor had it stopped his vigils in Ma's bedroom, his inventory of gnawing worries, brooded over and confessed haltingly during the nightly visits."

The questions she asks are unsettling, her opinions are freely shared. Frankie doesn't quite know what to make of her. It is with Sydney's encouragement and knowledge of everything Parsons that he can ask the ultimate 10 p.m. question.

No matter how eccentric, I loved every single character in this wonderful book. I have a special place in my heart for Frankie, for Ma and for Sydney. Their world is so poignant, yet compelling. The sense of acceptance that comes through in the reading is what will make it memorable in the months to come and I will be recommending it for middle and high school readers who love character driven stories who find happiness despite the odds, and do their best to make their life the best they can make it.

The ending is exactly as it should be, allowing readers time to savor all that has happened and consider what might happen in the future. It is hopeful in a book that is sensitive, smart and oh, so funny at times. It will go on my list of 'forever' favorites !

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