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Friday, August 3, 2012

beneath a meth moon, written by Jacqueline Woodson. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin. 2012. $18.00 ages 14 and up

"By the time I'd been living for a while in Donnersville, I was thin and hollowed out. My hair hanging yellowed and clumping down over my back. Each time I saw myself in the storefront windows, I looked away real quick - thinking that wasn't me - that girl with the clothes hanging off her that way, her cheekbones jutting out of her face, her eyes sinking in..."

I have been a fan of Jacqueline Woodson's incomparable writing since reading Last Summer with Maizon. I can't tell you that I have read every single book for middle graders, young adult readers and illustrated books; but, I have done my best to be sure that I have. I should keep a list, shouldn't I?

So, I am always very happy to learn that she has a new book being published. Which is exactly the way I felt when I read early press for beneath a meth moon. I knew it would not be easy to read. I also knew that it would be about honorable, honest, and real people. That is what she does so well, and what leads me back, again and again, to her writing.

This first person voice belongs to Laurel, a fifteen year old with a loving family, a true friend and a heart that is sore and aching. We meet her as the rising waters are about to swamp Pass Christian, Mississippi and threatening her grandmother's home on the beach in the Gulf of Mexico. M'Lady, her grandmother, has heard that the storm is coming but she has no fear:
"It's just talk, Laur. People need something to get people scared about. A storm's a storm, and I've waited out plenty of them. But your daddy's taking you and your mama and baby Jesse just in case, so you'll go. I'll be right her when y'all get back."

I wonder how many people felt the same way; and  then couldn't outrun the storm? In the end, Laurel, her daddy and Jesse leave mama behind with M'Lady and seek refuge with relatives. When they return, full of hope, it is to find that both women have died. This leads to great upheaval for the family. After living with relatives for too long, Laurel's dad finds a new job in Galilee. It is a beautiful place and Laurel finds much to love about it.

Kaylee shows up a few days after their arrival, and they become fast friends. When they make the cheerleading squad, Laurel catches the eye of Boom-Boom, basketball player. Their meeting leads to a downhill slide into methamphetamine addiction, homelessness, and a near death experience. Her reliance on 'moon' has her running away from her family, begging in the streets for money to feed her habit and a chance meeting with Moses, a young street artist who uses his art to honor those young users caught in the vortex of drug addiction.

Moses has suffered his own kind of loss, due to meth:

"Her heart stopped when I was five. But she'd been doing meth for a while before that, so the way I figure it, her heart had stopped working, stopped loving, long before it stopped beating."

It is so painful to watch Laurel as she spirals downward into the grip of her addiction. Yet, there is always hope in the heartache. Jacqueline Woodson uses her amazing writing talent to take us on Laurel's journey through happiness, hopelessness and finally, hope once more. Bravo!

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