Although I didn’t want April to slip away without reviewing a poetry book, this is not the one I thought I’d cover. It has sat on my shelf since last fall, it’s slim spine slipping down between other books, sometimes shoved behind but always reemerging to ask the mute question, “Why haven’t you read me?” Why? Because I was afraid it would hurt. Because I was afraid it would make me cry. Because this is a collection of poetry in many forms that examines the murder of Matthew Shepard and it’s aftermath and I knew it would be an emotionally brutal read. And it was. All those things happened—my heart broke, my head ached, I cried. But I’m glad I read it. Because this is also a collection of poetry in many forms that pays tribute to a life cut short and calls on anyone who reads it to fight against the ignorance, intolerance and hatred that caused Matthew’s murder. Each poem assumes a voice of a person or object that either witnessed or was in someway touched by Matthew’s life or death. We hear from the fence he was hung on, the moon who witnessed it, the prosecutor who argued his case, the jury who decided the guilt of killers, the judge who handed down two life sentences in prison. But the poems that touched me the most were those modeled after the famous apology poem “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams. (Probably because all the apologies in the world won’t bring him back.) There’s this one, in the voice of Matthew’s heart: “This is just to say/I’m sorry/I kept beating/and beating/inside/your shattered chest/Forgive me/for keeping you/alive/so long/I knew it would kill me/to let you go” And this one in the voice of the judge who rejected the killers’ bogus defense: “This is just to say/I’m sorry/to deny/your request/to use/the gay panic defense/Forgive me/for pointing out/the obvious:/there was someone gay/and panicked that night/but that someone wasn’t you.” Author Leslea Newman has also included loads of fantastic backmatter, including a heartfelt author’s note, an annotated list of all the news sources she drew from to inform her poems and additional resources should readers want to learn more about Matthew Shepard’s life and memorial. A bittersweet and powerful collection.
Celia Door is DARK. “When I say I turned Dark, what I really mean is that I gave up. I gave up on trying to fit in and make everyone like me. I accepted that no one liked me and I didn’t care what they thought…I realized that, in a field of sunflowers, I’m a black-eyed Susan.” It’s freshman year. Celia is turning over a new leaf. And it’s black. She’s never without her black boots, black hoodie and black and white composition notebook that holds her dark poetry. This ensemble helps her get into the correct mindset to enact what she hopes will be a singular, spectacular act of sweet revenge. “I came to Hersey High School for revenge. I didn’t have a specific plan worked out, but I did know this: it would be public, it would humiliate someone, and it would be clear to that someone that I had orchestrated it.” Eighth grade was tough. Celia’s parents split, she lost her best friend and she was publically humiliated. Now she only hopes to take down the individual who made her lose faith in herself that awful year. Enter new kid Drake Berlin, who “had the kind of style that you can only achieve if you were raised in New York City or possibly a foreign country.” Drake is as bright as Celia is dark, as popular as she is unpopular. Shockingly, of all the kids at school, he picks her to be his friend. Celia is flattered, but she can’t let Drake distract her from her plan. And she can’t tell him the terrible truth of what happened last year. But Drake is hiding a secret too. And if Celia and Drake don’t figure out a way to bring their secrets to light, they just might be undone by their own darkness. If you haven’t noticed, I can’t stop quoting pithy passages from this marvelous debut. Celia’s first person narration is sprinkled with humor and pathos in equal measure, which ended up making me laugh or cry every other page. Plus, she is a woman after my own book-loving heart. Celia freakin’ adores the library and isn’t afraid to say so: “I love a library the way a swim team loves towels,” and “Libraries are my power centers.” She even organizes her book crushes by genre. “My classic crush is Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. For fantasy, I’ve chosen Aragon from Lord of the Rings. Sci-fi is a tie between Peeta and Gale from Hunger Games, and my favorite contemporary fiction bad boy is Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.” In addition to her wonderful wordsmithery and pitch perfect portrayal of a girl in crisis, author Karen Finneyfrock has crafted an all too real tale about the consequences of bullying and the high price of revenge. Celia’s ninth grade journey is painful and wonderful and tragic and true. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss this one.
Dear teen peeps,
Just a reminder that the absolutely stunning Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell that I reviewed waaaay back in October of 2012 is NOW AVAILABLE and you should run, not walk to your nearest library, bookstore or e-reader and secure a copy ASAP. I am absolutely gaga (and I don’t mean Lady) over this book and I’m not the only one. While you’re standing in line waiting to check out or buy your copy, you can take a gander at all the other folks (like John Green) who are as nuts about this terrific contemporary teen relationship novel as I am.
Book trailer for Eleanor & Park by the Arlington Public Library Teen Librarians