Someone to Run With by David Grossman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Insert the sound of a long exasperated disappoint groan.
It pains me when I read a brilliant book and yet cannot directly share it with my students because of some of its content and pockets of harsh language...a character calls the boys "f-able" [the inserted dash is mine[ among many other gristly uses of that most colorful of "f" words.
However, starting at the beginning I had so much hope...
The opening device, a stray dog, Dinka, leading sixteen year-old Assaf on a journey to find the dog's owner, Tamar, yanks the reader right into a plot where bits and pieces are revealed by the hands of a craftsman. Israeli author David Grossman's opening is brilliant. Racing and yapping, Dinka tugs Assaf into a pizza shop...where pizzas are waiting for the dog's owner. Then Dinka gallops through the streets to the home of a nun...and on and on as it picks up scents and traces of memories of places and people she has seen before.
All along, we gather pieces of the ever-unfolding puzzle...who is the owner, where is she, why is the dog out on its own, and so on. The "where is she" question lies at the heart of the story.
The parallel journeys are equally exciting and shifty--little is easily anticipated by the reader. But everything in each plot arc unravels in our hands and comes together in one pleasantly tangled and knotty story.
So much is right about this story; however, the authentic language is bit too gritty for the average middle school student. On the one hand, I see this as more appropriate for a high school aged student or, at best, a really mature middle school student in a really progressive family. On the other hand, the language is no more gritty than something you'd find in a John Hughes film...it is just that we also do not hand John Hughes scripts to our students either.
The other layer, the young characters hooked on drugs, performing on the street to line the pockets of the local mafia may also be too healthy of a dose of dark reality for your middle school community.
It disappoints me because there is so much here that young writers could learn from--I heartily recommend the novel for any adult to read, especially if you would like an introduction to more multicultural authors.
I see Grossman has written several books for young people--I'll have to check those out, as Someone to Run with, even for all of its brilliance (rich in culture and style) maybe be just a little too mature for a young adolescent audience.
Nevertheless, I guess all I can say is pick it up if you are old enough to drive.
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