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Sunday, September 2, 2012

a certain October, written by Angela Johnson. Simon & Schuster, 2012. $19.99 ages 14 and up

"Keone traces Misha's tattoo with his finger in an endless loop and it doesn't seem to drive her out of her mind. She's used to him. But I guess the biggest thing is Keone's used to her - so everything is quiet in the living room. He's used to Falcone, too. Falcone sits on the other side of him and is letting him listen to his favorite music on the iPod over and over again."

The streak continues. I have yet to find a book by Angela Johnson that I don't love. While I will admit that I don't think I have read every single one, I have certainly read most and am convinced that her skill at telling beautiful stories will keep me in her fan club for years to come.

Released this week, I am ever so grateful to April at Simon & Schuster Canada for sending it so that I can share it with you. Given my earlier experience with Ms. Johnson's work, I was not surprised to find that I could NOT stop reading, once started. In first person narrative Scotty, 16, tells us about 'a certain october'.

Her days in October are spent at school, with her friends and helping with her younger autistic brother, Keone. Falcone and Misha are her best friends and when she wants a break from home, they are together. Conversations center around the homecoming dance that is just around the corner and a trip they all hope to make to see Falcone's sister, Gina. Gina has been very special to Scotty, acting as a surrogate mother figure when Scotty's mom died.

Scotty's voice is so strong, and memorable:

"My life is like tofu - it's what gets added that makes it interesting. It might be good for me, sometimes its kinda bland and needs some hot sauce to spice it up, and most times I complain, silently, that I don't like it, but I think that's normal. I like to whine."

She holds grudges:

"I smiled at Misha and Falcone - remembering when we all used to get caught eating the paste  together underneath the art tables in kindergarten. They stayed friends with me when I was a bald nine-year-old after Kris Jones perpetuated a particularly nasty chewing-gum crime throughout my hair."

Thus, we meet Kris.

Keone is a bundle of energy, a young boy who loves cookies, and books about trains, planes and automobiles. When Scotty is charged with taking him to the pediatrician for her stepmother, they take the train. Keone loves it...except for this one trip. Kris in on the train, and offers to stay past his stop so he can help with Keone. In the following moments there is a crash, leaving two students dead (including Kris), Scotty injured and her little brother in a coma.

Scotty cannot get over the survivor's guilt she is feeling. She should have insisted that Kris get off at his stop, she should not be so afraid of driving and then they wouldn't have taken the train, she should have....the guilt consumes her and her friends try to help. As days pass, she visits the hospital and spends her time reading to Keone. She meets Jason and is infatuated with him. So much so that she tries to avoid him at all costs.  That is not going to happen if Jason has a say. As the month plays itself out, we realize that, despite this life-changing event, Scotty will find her way to 'better' with the help of friends and time. Wonderful and enriching, this is a book meant to be shared!

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