Saturday, November 28, 2009


Biblio Bits Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt, Clarion Books, 2008 (ISBN 9780618927661)
Reading Level/Interest Age 930 lexile/Ages 13+

Genre Realistic Fiction
Plot Summary
At fourteen years old, Henry Smith has led a relatively trouble-free life. His father always liked to say that "If you build your house far enough away, Trouble won't be able to find you." In the classic homestead that his family has owned for 300 years, and in the elite community on Cape Ann, MA, it seems like Henry's dad is right. Until Henry's perfect, athletic, older brother is struck by an inattentive driver while running, loses an arm and is placed in a medically-induced coma. The family falls into a deep grief and scatter to their respective corners of the family home. The driver of the vehicle, Chay, is also a student at Franklin's private school; Chay and his family are Cambodian and came to America as refugees. Chay's family lives in a nearby town that was settled by many Cambodian families and racial tensions begin to heat up between the two communities. Henry and Franklin had talked about a climbing trip to Mt. Katahdin, in Maine, and now Henry is determined to follow through with that goal. The story is a tightly-woven narrative that is laced with psychological intrigue and suspense, a story of families who find themselves in all kinds of trouble.

Critical Evaluation
Schmidt has crafted a literary coming-of-age story that touches on many emotional nerves: racism, classicism, grief, loss, and families under stress. Though the themes are serious, the book is compelling and does not feel morose or "heavy." Henry rescues a dog from near-drowning who is malnourished and has been abused. Though his parents initially resist, the dog provides an anchor for him in his grief; this relationship is sweet and funny and helps Henry from being totally alone, since his family members are so isolated in their grief. Though the book is very character-driven, it is cleverly crafted so as not to feel slow or brooding, and in fact, sometimes is very suspenseful. There are no easy answers here, and older tweens who are ready for more of a challenge will not be disappointed in Schmidt's storytelling.

Reader's Annotation
Is it possible to hide from Trouble? Henry's family has, in their elite community north of Boston, for over 300 years. But suddenly, Trouble is everywhere in Henry's life and he thinks he knows how to get his life in balance again: Climb Mt. Katahdin alone.

Author Information
Gary D. Schmidt was born in 1957 in Hicksville, NY. He attended Gordon College for his Bachelor's Degree and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his Master's Degree, where he also received his Ph.D. He is married, with six children, and currently lives in Grand Rapids, MI. Schmidt has received numerous awards and recognition for his other works of children's literature, including two Newbery Honor Awards. (Information in this author biography is from Gale's Contemporary Authors Online, 2009).

Challenge issues
A rape is mentioned, but not described in detail. There is some violence though not overly graphic or gruesome.

Booktalking Ideas
This book definitely falls into the category of the teen problem novel, and more specifically, into the subject of death and grief. In a booktalk, I would emphasize the ways that Henry's family has avoided trouble so far: being white, being privileged, being lucky, and being sheltered in their family homestead. I would also emphasize Henry's goal of climbing Mt. Katahdin as his own way of coping with his grief. Henry finds out that trouble is everywhere. A Summer to Die (Lowry, 1977), Autobiography of My Dead Brother (Myers, 2005), and One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies (Sones, 2004) might be other titles to include for this theme and age group.

Curriculum Ties
This would be an ideal book to read while studying the Civil Rights Movement or immigration because it is clearly shows that institutional racism and segregation are alive and well and living in the United States, during many periods in our history and currently. I could imagine this book as a starting point for a discussion about immigrant or refugee communities in the students' own communities and the issues that might have arisen from their arrival. A formal or informal debate might be initiated, perhaps with the following questions: How can communities respond appropriately to an immigrant influx? What kinds of social services might they need? What about American taxpayers who resent the loss of jobs and higher taxes? What are the next steps for the fictional communities of Blythbury-by-the-Sea and Merton and how will they reconcile their differences?

Why this book?
This book had been recommended to me months ago, but I kept avoiding it because it sounded like the subject matter was so dreary. But I am glad I returned to it.

MSBA Reading List 2009-2010; Oprah's Reading List New Releases, ages 12 and up.

Rockport Public Library owns?

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