Jerilyn and Jesse have lost their beloved older brother. But each of them deals with Jaron's death differently. Jerilyn tries to keep it in and hold it together; Jesse acts out. But after a year of anger, pain, and guilt, they come to understand that it's time to move on. It's time for a new family picture-with one piece missing, yet whole again. Through the alternating voices of a brother and sister, Nikki Grimes eloquently portrays the grieving process in this gem of a book that is honest, powerful, and ultimately hopeful.
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Grade 3-8–Grimes's novella in verse is a prime example of how poetry and story can be combined to extend one another. When their brother dies, Jerilyn and Jesse cope with the anger, confusion, and the silence that grief brings to their family. Jesse's rhyming verse faces his older sister's free-verse comments on her experiences. When Jesse hits a home run in a league game soon after his brother's death, he glows, "I took off around the field,/legs pumping like lightning!/I slid into home plate clean./Man, I'm so cool,/I'm frightening!/...What am I supposed to do,/spend each minute crying?/I wish I could please you, Mom,/but I'm sick of trying." Jerilyn muses, "It's his right to smile,/isn't it?/To be delirious?/So what if I don't understand?/This ghost town,/draped in shadow,/is desperate for/a few more watts of light." Grimes handles these two voices fluently and lucidly, shaping her characters through her form. Colón's paintings in muted colors combine imagism with realism to create an emotional dreamscape on nearly every page. The clean design combined with the book's short, easy pace and small size give readers a comfortable place from which to listen to the characters as they make their way from "Getting the News" to "Anniversary," and finally to "Ordinary Days." The book closes with a poem in two voices, and Jesse and Jerilyn come together for a new family photograph. "Smile!"–and readers will. Fans of Vera B. Williams's Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart (Greenwillow, 2001) will appreciate this powerful title.–Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA
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Gr. 4-8. At the funeral for her older brother, Jaron, Jerilyn is furious that "no one tells the truth": "Dead is dead. / Not 'gone away.' / Not 'lost.' / Not 'on a journey.' / Not 'passed.'" Her younger brother, Jesse, is angry, too, but he's mad at Jaron: "You left me . . . I hate you for that!" In poems that alternate between voices, Jerilyn and Jesse describe their complicated, private thoughts as they grieve for their beloved brother. Grimes often chooses rhymed couplets for Jesse's voice, and the singsong sounds and tight rhythm create a young tone that's indicative of Jesse's age but, nonetheless, feels distractingly at odds with the somber subject and raw emotions--feelings that Grimes gets just right. Moving and wise, these are poems that beautifully capture a family's heartache as well as the bewildering questions that death brings, and they reinforce the message in Grimes' warm author's note: "There's no right or wrong way to feel when someone close to you dies." Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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