THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S by Lee Gjertson Malone
A funny romp that explores standing out and owning one’s differences.
Jeremy Miner is the last boy remaining at an all girls’ school after it tried (and failed) to go co-ed. It’s actually quite hilarious; from Jeremy’s mother’s harried comments to his dad’s erstwhile but not very helpful advice from his boat exploring the ocean, Jeremy’s circumstances are very relateable: how do you stand out in a good way when you’re going to stand out? The book is also very girl-centric: as much as it seems like we’re reading a book about boys, it’s really about the titular character’s relationships with the girls in his life, from his sisters to his best friend, the new girl, and all their classmates. Quickly paced, it also explores more nuanced issues of gender on the down-low. Some of the pranks may get a little tiring, but the humor and well-drawn characters are enough to keep you turning pages all the way to the finish line.
It’s not a re-read book for me, probably because I’m less into MG than other categories, but it has a lot of heart and had me laughing.
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven
This was one of those books that I was warned about before I read it. I went into it knowing how it was going to end, and that’s probably why this is a 2 stew and not a 1 stew.
Niven attempts to handle both manic-depression and suicide in this book, and both fall flat. I was hoping for a thoughtful struggle to stay alive and the necessary humor to buoy yourself out of the terrible times, but Finch’s darkness is balanced with Manic Pixie Dream Boy antics, mostly laughable. It is hard and uncomfortable to dig into this, but for a POV character I expected better than flamboyant declarations of suicide and none of the wonder, hope, or terror that you feel just as keenly as self-destruction. Finch and Violet’s relationship felt contrived–you could see the hand of the author too clearly moving them together– and Finch himself felt like he served more as a vehicle for Violet’s own enlightenment at the end than a character in his own right. It seemed like this was written more to work out the author’s own personal issues as a survivor of a significant other’s suicide than to dig deep into the mind set of self-destructive behaviors and present an accurate mirror.
There were some good scenes and nice feats of language, but without the necessary depth to make death an understandable though tragic consequence of suicide, this is not a book on suicide I’d recommend.