BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie and After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

Drums Girls and Dangerous Pie and After Ever After

Being in the throes of adolescence, my two teenagers have little they agree on … especially when it comes to reading. Thing 1 can’t ever read enough; Thing 2 only deigns to pick up a book when he’s got an assignment due (yesterday, ahem). Jordan Sonnenblick, however, always elicits a sort-of similar response from both: “When’s his next book coming out?” Thing 1 asks; “Drums and Zen were great; maybe I’ll read another …” Thing 2 ponders. Hope springs eternal.

So here I am to tell parents with readers and non-readers that Sonnenblick is an ideal choice for both. Really. Tried and tested in this house.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie was Sonnenblick’s debut effort (the last paragraph in his online bio says, “I have written a book per year since then,” so let’s hope he keeps that momentum going!). Welcome to Steven Alper’s eighth grade year … which starts out pretty smoothly. He’s a decent student, an awesome drummer, has reliable friends including a gorgeous crush, the usual loving parents, and an adorable (if sometimes annoying) five-year-old-brother. So far, so good … until one morning (October 7, to be exact), Steven is making “moatmeal” for little Jeffy (which only Steven can make just right) when Jeffy takes a tumble and gets a nosebleed … and it won’t stop. Emergency room, hospitalization, tests … and Jeffy is diagnosed with leukemia.

In pitch-perfect eighth-grade boy-speak, Sonnenblick details the challenges that Steven faces – watching his baby brother suffer through the debilitating treatments, his parents’ superhuman efforts to contain their worry, his own impossible feelings of helplessness and anger, not to mention his failing grades, his erratic love life, and the school counselor whose candy hearts make him weep every time.

Fast forward eight years to After Ever After and Jeffrey’s now in eighth grade. His leukemia is in remission, but he’s left with lifetime scars inside and out – a self-described “short, chubby kid with glasses, a limp, and brain damage.” A bit of exaggeration, but definitely a semblance of truth. His best friend. Tad, is an acerbic fellow cancer survivor. He’s “met the girls of [his] dreams,” in California-transfer Lindsay Abraham. So far, school is pretty good … although the home life, not so much. His accountant father can’t understand why Jeffrey struggles so much with math; his teacher mother (understandably) worries more than most. And, most disturbingly, his idol-brother Steven has dropped out of life and is somewhere in Africa chasing drumming circles.

Then a letter arrives: Filled with “super-awkward phrases like ‘educational equity’ and ‘assessment regime’ and ‘holistic integrity of the K-12 system,'” the bottom line means Jeffrey will need to pass “huge, horrifying state standardized tests” in order to graduate from eighth grade and move on. That letter (which ends up in the garbage disposal, ahem) leads to some major planning – including both Jeff and Tad getting through graduation with remarkable results! Another unforgettable eighth-grade Alper year begins …

Somehow, Sonnenblick is able to create both a shattering and hopeful story, balanced with gentle humor and wrenching tenderness. Highly recommend to be read back-to-back, the double novels offer a clear, remarkable window into adolescence … although you’ll need to occasionally wipe away the blur from your overflowing tears.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2004 and 2010



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