In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Dear Annie,

Happy Christmas certainly happened.  We had a lovely day giving each other gifts and then just hanging out and trying to figure out how the gifts worked.  Pete Thompson, the girls' cousin on Bob's side (you may remember him as the amazing photographer at your brother's wedding), joined us for Christmas Eve and Day -- including our marathon book-reading! -- which was quite nice.   Before becoming a fashion photographer, which he is now, Pete spent many years shooting skateboarders in action.  Somehow we started talking about legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk (with whom Pete had worked on occasion), and it led to discussion of a great young adult book.

, by Nick Hornby is another one of those books it's extremely hard to sell to anyone's parent.  I'll just say, "It's a wonderful book about a 15 year-old boy who fathers a child," and 90% of parents will say, let's see something else. Sam, the main character, is very into skateboarding (he would say skating -- the full word is uncool) and Tony Hawk is his idol.  He talks to a poster of Hawk that hangs in his room, and after he's read Hawk's autobiography, the poster responds to him, in lines from the book.
After a while, I started talking to Tony Hawk about other things -- about school, Mum, Alicia, whatever, and I found that he had something to say about those things too.  His words still came from his book, but the book is about his life, not just skating, so not everything he says is about sacktaps and shove-its.
   For example, if I told him about how I'd lost my temper with Mum for no reason, he'd say, "I was ridiculous.  I can't believe my parents didn't duct-tape me up, stuff a sock in my mouth and throw me in a corner."  And when I told him about some big fight at school, he said, "I didn't get into any trouble, because I was happy with Cindy."  Cindy was his girlfriend of the time.  Not everything Tony Hawk said was that helpful, to tell you the truth, but it wasn't his fault.  If there was nothing in the book that was exactly right, then I had to make some of the sentences fit as best I could.  And the amazing thing was that once you made them fit, then they always made sense, if you thought about what he said hard enough.
Then when Sam's girlfriend tells him she's pregnant, things start happening which Sam interprets as Tony playing tricks on him.  Every now and then Sam wakes up in the future, after the baby is born, and spends a day as his pre-baby self trying to figure out What's going on and what he's supposed to do.  They're wonderfully funny and poignant scenes.

The book is about being handed a life you hadn't expected, and managing to bumble through, even learning a fair amount as you go.  Hornby has called it a cautionary tale, but it's much more than that.  A very good read.  When it came out in 2007, Bob wrote an article on Hornby and the blossoming of young adult literature. Good reading all around.

I hope you're all still having a good time out there in the midwest.



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