Sunday, September 17, 2006

Review: a brief chapter in my impossible life

I've been wanting to read Dana Reinhardt's a brief chapter in my impossible life, for a while now. Its appearance on a few of the MotherReader top five of 2006 lists (High School) hastened its position on the "to read" or "to listen" pile to the very top.

The top five lists have been interesting in that not everyone has chosen the same books. But only three books stood out as favorites that I hadn't yet read--a brief chapter in my impossible life, RULES, by Cynthia Lord, and Shug, by Jenny Han.

I chose a brief chapter in my impossible life as my next audible selection and checked out Shug from my favorite semi-local library to catch up with the crowd (RULES is on the docket for next week). And, I'm glad I did! Both novels are excellent, every-day life reads. So on to the review...

Simone Turner-Bloom is your average above-average teenager. She has a mother, a father and a younger brother. She lives in an upper middle class home and is an excellent student with a gift for math. But, Simone is different from most of her peers in one significant way. She's adopted and doesn't look like her parents or her brother. This doesn't bother her much, because she's happy in her family and really feels an integral part of the Turner-Bloom home.

One day, however, Simone's parents tell her that her birth mother, Rivka, wants to meet her. Simone struggles with this decision for months until, finally, she agrees to invite Rivka to Thanksgiving dinner. And, guess what? Simone finds herself drawn to her young birth mother and they begin a close relationship as Simone finds out about her past from her birth mother. Part of Rivka's past is Judaism, and atheist Simone is drawn to Rivka's practice of Judaism and its culture.

There's a hitch, however, in this happy new relationship and it is the reason Rivka sought Simone out before adulthood. Rivka's sick with ovarian cancer and only has months to live. And, in the background of these momentous changes in Simone's life are everyday teenage challenges--first kisses, boyfriends, a friend's family troubles, etc.

a brief chapter in my impossible life is different from most YA fiction in one, very unique way. Everyone involved--from Simone, to her friends and family, past and present--is essentially good. There's no abuse, alcoholism, or cutting in this book. It's a gorgeous examination of what happens when an extraordinary, but perfectly understandable, event challenges an essentially good, well-meaning teen.

Reviewers write a lot about how YA fiction offers much to teens who are struggling with issues, but books like a brief chapter in my impossible life are important too. Simone and her story, minus the adoption and math genius issues, are easily recognizable to me and I suspect will be to many teen readers.

a brief chapter in my impossible life is a beautifully written story. Simone's voice is strong and sympathetic. a brief chapter in my impossible life reminded me most of Justina Chen Headley's Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies). Both are highly recommended.