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Saturday, April 13, 2013

After Eli, written by Rebecca Rupp. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $18.00 ages 11 and up

"What Walter thinks is that people are like rivers. We never stay in the same place but just keep flowing along, learning new stuff and picking up new experiences and changing all the time. So today's you isn't the same as yesterday's you and won't be the same as tomorrow's you. But Walter also thinks that there's a real perfect you that you're always trying to get to, and the better you are at living your life, the closer you come to it."

It was quite the summer for Daniel (E.) Anderson. As he looks back on it, he comes to realize how his life changed because of it. When it begins, Daniel and his family are still struggling to deal with his brother's death in Iraq. Eli signed up right after 9/11 wanting to do something rather than just sit and accept. Three years later, Danny remains angry with Eli for that decision.

To help himself cope Danny began creating a Book of the Dead. In it he chronicles the deaths of many people, when they died, how and even why? He hopes it will help him understand Eli's death. Each chapter begins with the name of a person who has died:

"VALYA STARIKOVA (1931-1944)
              Eaten by wolves.
Daniel (E.) Anderson's Book of the Dead"

His father is detached, distant and disgruntled. His mother has locked herself away from life and the living. That summer Danny meets Isabelle and her twin siblings. They are from New York and spending their time away from the hustle and bustle while their father works on a monograph and their mother paints rural landscapes. He also gets to know his much-maligned, nerdy classmate Walter. He finds work at an organic farm owned by one of his brother's friends and discovers that he loves the land and nurturing the growth of vegetables.

As the entries in his book continue to grow, Danny finds solace in his work, his first love and the loyalty of a true friend. He continues to miss so many things about Eli and their times together, the promises made for life following his tour in Iraq, of opportunities missed and life as it once was. His first person narration is quirky at times, very thoughtful at others:

“I think living or dying is just dumb luck. If Eli had taken a few minutes longer to lace up his boots that morning, or if he’d had three eggs for breakfast instead of two, maybe he’d have been in a different truck, one that didn’t run over the bomb.”

His wanton act of destruction when he trashes Eli's 'shrine' of a room is filled with all of the anger and despair he has been feeling for so long:

"I hated them all. I even hated Jim and Emma, because they were happy and I wasn't, and Walter, because he was going to have a successful life, and the twins, because they were too young to have any problems and didn't have the sense to see how lucky they were."

Despite the pervasive feeling of sadness and loss, there are moments of humor, happiness, and his own understanding that he is changing for the better. His story remains hopeful despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It will take and patience to get to a better place. You are sure to love the twins (and the other wonderful characters) and to celebrate with Danny the small steps he is able to take toward acceptance of a better future:

"Mostly, though, I don't think about Eli dying anymore. Maybe the old Egyptians were right that dying is a journey from the world of  the living to whatever comes next, and that it takes a long time. It's the same for survivors too, and for me, my journey's done. I think that maybe all this time with my Book of the Dead, I've been building a bridge between the world with Eli in it and the world without him, and now I've crossed over to the other side. I've reached what Walter calls closure, about which I guess Walter was right after all."

So good! You should NOT miss this impressive and unforgettable book.

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