Monday, April 25, 2016

Sticks and Stones - a review

Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2016
(Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley)

  "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

This adage has been told to innumerable children, but in Elyse's case, words do hurt. Elyse has a rare condition called cognadjvisiblitis, or CAV. When she hears nouns or adjectives describing her, they appear as black words on her arms and legs.

In elementary school, Elyse could count on her best friend Jeg, the kindness of young children, and the assistance of teachers and school administrators to ensure that only positive words would appear on her skin, HAPPY, CUTE, SMART. These words were not only complimentary, they were non-irritating. Unkind words surfaced dark, large, and bold - causing extreme itching and discomfort.

Middle school behaviors cannot be controlled so easily. First, she is dumped by her boyfriend, and then she loses Jeg to the cool girls clique. No one can ensure that only positive adjectives find their way to Elyse's ears. It's no wonder that she takes to wearing long sleeves and pants, regardless of the season.

Things begin getting both better and worse as Elyse follows the advice she finds written on mysterious, but mostly encouraging, blue notes. The notes exhort her to compete for the school's coveted position of class trip Explorer Leader, but the contest exposes her to social situations that aggravate her CAV. Her nervous mother takes her, yet again, to the doctor renowned for, but mostly ineffective in treating CAV,

     "People go to meetings, I said. "And take walks. It's not that crazy."

     Dr. Patel scooted closer to get a better look at my words. DUMB was still there. So were IDIOT, LOSER, STUPID, UNLOVABLE, WORTHLESS, and FREAK, the whole crew. They were going in all different directions, and some were bigger than others, but they were all thick, dark, mean, and itchy, and felt like ridiculously scratchy clothes-the ones that also have ridiculously scratchy tags-I couldn't ever take off. 

While the postulate of a school choosing a class trip leader in reality-TV-style, seems a bit far-fetched, the underlying middle school drama rings true, and the book's unique premise of CAV will give readers pause for thought.

Sticks and Stones offers more than just middle-school angst and coming-of-age experiences. Similar to the lives of real children who deal with name-calling everyday, Elyse's story is not one of overcoming this adversity, but of living with it. Elyse's story is a reminder that not all things can be made "right," but we should all take care that we do not contribute to making things "wrong."

(An added bonus: it's a mystery - who is writing those blue notes?)

This is a debut novel for former teacher and school librarian, Abby Cooper.  She's off to a great start.  Look for this one in July, or pre-order a copy.

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