From School Library Journal
Grade 6-9–On stage for his eighth-grade graduation, Steven recalls the past school year during which his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with and treated for leukemia. Steven is an avid drummer, journal writer, and generally a good student. But the pressures of dealing with Jeff's illness stresses his entire family as his school-teacher mom takes a leave to care for him, Dad withdraws, and Steven stops doing homework. Renee Albert is the object of his lust, while Annette, the piano player in jazz band, gradually becomes beautiful in his eyes. Steven's frequent faux pas seem belabored early in the book, but they do eventually work to show him to be an admirable fellow who grows in his ability to deal with others, including Renee and Annette, the school counselor, his parents, and Jeff. The book does not miss a single emotional beat, taking every opportunity to demonstrate that Lurlene McDaniel has no stranglehold on jerking tears as Steven details the progress of leukemia's inexorable attack. If the young characters sometimes speak beyond their years and if Steven's wise-ass voice is initially annoying, it is also fresh, energetic, and consistent, becoming more likable as the novel progresses. One stylistic device seemed unnecessary and distracting: characters' speech is indicated by italics, while quotation marks are used to set off Steven's inner thoughts and for special emphasis.–Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA
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*Starred Review* Gr. 5-8. Steven Alper is a typical eighth-grader--smarter than some, a better drummer than most, but with the usual girl problems and family trials. Then, on October 7, his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, falls, has a nosebleed that doesn't stop, and is diagnosed with leukemia. All hell breaks loose. Mrs. Alper's days and nights revolve around getting Jeffrey to his chemotherapy treatments, and Mr. Alper retreats into a shell, coming out only occasionally to weep over the mounting medical bills. Steven becomes the forgotten son, who throws himself into drumming, even as he quits doing his homework and tries to keep his friends from finding out about Jeffrey's illness. A story that could have morphed into melodrama is saved by reality, rawness, and the wit Sonnenblick infuses into Steven's first-person voice. The recriminations, cares, and nightmares that come with a cancer diagnosis are all here, underscored by vomiting, white blood cell counts, and chemotherapy ports. Yet, this is also about regrouping, solidarity, love, and hope. Most important for a middle-grade audience, Sonneblick shows that even in the midst of tragedy, life goes on, love can flower, and the one thing you can always change is yourself. Ilene CooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved