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What They Always Tell Us Hardcover – August 12, 2008
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—Alex and James are only one year apart, but the distance between these brothers is vast. James, a popular and talented senior, awaits news about his early admission to Duke, playing tennis and going to parties with his buddies on the weekends. Alex, a junior, is confused and disoriented after having chugged Pine-Sol at a party, lost all of his friends, and found himself secretly dating Nathen, one of his brother's best pals. The backdrop is Tuscaloosa, AL, where Alex knows his emerging sexual identity will never be accepted, and James fears he will be stuck forever if Duke turns him down. The boys wander their way through the school year fulfilling family obligations, befriending an odd and lonely neighbor boy, and navigating their way back to mutual affection after a period of mild estrangement. Wilson's novel offers a look inside the minds of both brothers, allowing readers to experience their parents, their school, and their town from two distinct points of view, confident and fearful, indifferent and melancholy, impatient and reflective. Some readers may feel that the book has a bit of a slow start, with some of the relationships only beginning to develop after page 100. They may come away wishing to have gotten to know the central characters more deeply, although the relationship between Alex and Nathen is touchingly realistic. In the end, this book may appeal to teens who are grappling with decisions about the future, the frustrations of family, and the choices that relationships require of us.—Nora G. Murphy, Los Angeles Academy Middle School
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*Starred Review* The story is told in alternating chapters by two brothers. James is a popular, smart senior who awaits his acceptance letter from Duke. But there are several dark folds in his smooth life. He is in the process of breaking up with Alice, whose only attraction for him was their sexual relationship. Then there’s his brother. What was he thinking when he swallowed Pine-Sol at a party? Alex is a junior and still trying to find his way back from an impetuous, potentially deadly act. His friends are gone, but one of James’ buddies, Nathen, gets Alex involved in running, and slowly Alex sees there might be a life left for him. Soon it becomes clear that the life he wants is with Nathen, who returns his feelings. The writing, which at first seems straightforward, almost bland, becomes increasingly layered as it dispenses its information, gradually and ever more movingly. Adding both texture to the story and an element of mystery is the inclusion of a young neighbor boy, whose problems draw both James and Alex to his side and to each other. This is a strong debut, and Wilson shows admirable control of a complicated story that in less-accomplished hands could have spun out of control. The structure literally allows readers to see both sides. Grades 9-12. --Ilene Cooper
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I think one of this book's strongest characteristics is that the reader can really feel the growth between both brothers. Martin Wilson does a fantastic job of making these characters relatable, and multi-dimensional.
Alex has practically become a recluse after his friends all ditch him, and his parents act like they have to walk on eggshells or he'll suddenly go off balance and do something crazy again. He has to endure all of this alone, but Martin doesn't exploit the situation and aim for the reader's sympathy. That comes naturally through Alex's interactions with Henry and Nathen, which set him on a path of transformation that the reader can believe and relate to. As I watched Alex begin to grow up, I rooted for him even more. I found myself invested in his happiness, which is a sign of a great character.
And James is neither the super comforting big protector, nor is he a huge juke who could care less about Alex. The incident definitely puts a strain on their relationship, but I really like that Martin chose to include James' narrative, because you can see how much he's trying to be there for Alex, but it's not as easy it seems. He has his own life, own problems, and own worries, all of which are very relatable to a senior preparing to go off to college, and escape the small hometown he's always known. To him, the high school life full of parties is becoming monotonous and he feels like he's drifting away from all his friends who are still so invested in it. I loved watching his thought process, and how it wasn't just a clear shot from zero to one hundred. Like anyone else, he wavered on some things, let his mind soak everything in, which took him back and forth.
Henry and Nathen, who both influence Alex and James (especially Alex), really tied the story together. Henry is so adorably quirky, and I loved his interactions with Alex. And Alex's relationship with Nathen is the backbone of the story, slowly allowing Alex to open his heart, and feel things again with someone else. When I know how much the relationship means to Alex, it means a lot to me too.
And another thing that really sold me on the book was the ending. Things weren't wrapped up with a nice bow. It left me wondering about these characters' futures, but not because of plot holes or dropped storylines. I would definitely be interesting in hearing more of these characters someday, journeying Alex's senior year of high school and James' freshman year in college. These are characters I care about, and if you read this novel, you definitely will too.
The older brother James is more outgoing, but has a growing dissatisfaction with his high school life. His emotions are torn about his younger brother, Alex, who he used to be close with, but now wants to distance himself from. Younger brother Alex, now moody and withdrawn, starts to come into his own thanks to two people: the little kid who moves in across the street, and--especially--Nathan, who opens up a whole new world to him through running and a friendship that may turn into something more.
The chapters alternate the point of view between the two brothers and the author--Martin Wilson--does a good job of establishing unique voices for each and showing how the thoughts/feelings vs. the actions of the brothers have them both caught between what they truly want to do and what's expected of them by their friends and family.
There are several mysteries in this book: characters who do things without us, or the author, ever really understanding. Alice for one, and Tyler for another. We have our theories, just like the townspeople. Rumours fly but nothing is known for certain and at the end very little has changed. We enter a world of doubts and fears, of troubled relationships, and a great deal of hard work and effort, of people who are living on more of a knife edge then they even realise, and then we have to say goodbye. As I said, frustrating.
2. But, there is a goodness, a decency, an unspoken urge to do the right thing which runs through this book like a gentle current pulling all of the characters with it. Clare, Nathen, James' and Alex' mum and dad, and eventually Alice, Henry and the brothers too. And perhaps the books is mostly about the most fundamental urge of all - especially for teenagers -: to belong. Henry, Alice and Alex are the victims in this book because they suddenly don't - or feel that they don't - which in human terms is, of course, exactly the same thing and it is through the goodness and the love of the others that these fragile sensitive people are able to move on and begin, again, to feel that they actually do indeed belong, or to realise that 'belonging' in the sense that they had understood it, is no longer the priority it initially seemed to be.
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“What They Always Tell Us” is a scrappy dark horse of a novel with a strong sense on how those gossipy conversations that take place behind...Read more