Rummanah Aasi
 Gary Schmidt is a skillful children's author who is able to create a powerful, multilayered novels for young readers. The first book I read by Schmidt is his Newberry Honor The Wednesday Wars were he seamlessly weaves the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the trials of coming of age, and  the wise words of William Shakespeare which Holling Hoodhood reads in the classroom. Trouble by Gary Schmidt is just as powerful where death, grief, and racism collide and forces us to ask questions that are not easily answered.

Description:  Henry wishes to fulfill his brother Franklin's dying wish, which is to climb Maine's Mount Katahdin with his best friend and dog accompanying him, however another unexpected companion joins the journey- the person accused of  fatally injuring Franklin in a car accident. As Henry learns more about what happened that fateful night, his perception of his brother along with his familly's proud history are not what they seem.

Review: Trouble is a story of moral awakening as well as an exploration of how tragedy and racism affect individuals, families, and whole communities. The novel is set in an affluent provincial town in north shore Boston, where racial tension amongst the minority community is simmering. Things turn to the worse when Henry's older brother and prep-school rugby star, Franklin, is accidentally run down by a Cambodian classmate, Chay Chouan, where he lies briefly in a coma before dying. When Chay is given a plea bargin, the community is in uproar.
 Understandably, Henry's family is torn apart by grief and anger. Henry's parents deal with their grief in their own way by internalizing their pain and putting on a face of being "fine". Louisa, Henry's younger sister, feels responsible for Franklin's death yet refuses to disclose any of her knowledge of how she may be involved. Henry feels alone and isolated. His only companion that he can rely on is an abandoned and abused dog he names Black Dog, which he saves from drowning. The only things that keep Henry from falling apart are his hatred for the boy who drove the truck, his love for the stray Black Dog, and his determination to climb Maine's Mt. Katahdin, a herculian task that his brother told him he could never accomplish.
  Trouble is a gritty and moving read. The book slowly unveils its complexity of plot and characters, which may drag down some readers but I thought the slow pacing was delibrate so readers can see how each layer and relationship build with one another which allowed the reader to have a real, emotional impact once they are finished turning the last page. Although some incidents seem to be a little too convenient, I liked how the characters interacted with one another. While there may be little dialogue exchanged between the characters, just their mere prescene and working together speaks volumes of their relationship growth. The humor exchanged between Henry and his best friend, Sanborn, lifts the story up as needed.
   At first I did not like Henry who was easy to accept the status quo of his family and of his provincial town's attitude towards minorities, however, he changes from a boy filled with anger at his adored brother's death to an empathetic young man who is able to see all sides of people around him, including Franklin's flaws. I also enjoyed learning about Chay, but I wished the author expanded a bit more on the snippets of information we are told about the connections between Henry and Chay as told by Chay.
  Trouble reminds us that even though we may come from different backgrounds, we all share universal human experiences which allows to connect and communicate with one another. Despite the color of our skin, our class, or our social status, we are first and foremost human.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Most of the violence described in the book take place off the page. There are some racial slurs in the book too. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Friendship for Today by Patricia Mckissack or Noughts and Crosses trilogy by Malorie Blackman
3 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    This sounds like a really moving book and I love that it seems to present such a strong message about universal human experiences in a bit darker way so it doesn't read like an after school special. Beautiful review Rummanah, your reviews are always so nice and thorough:)


  2. Melissa Says:

    I tell myself I ought to read more Gary Schmidt, since I loved Wednesday Wars. Thanks for the extra push in that direction. It sounds like a fascinating book.


  3. Jenny: The book is pretty intense.

    Melissa: Schmidt is coming out with a companion novel to the Wednesday Wars. It's suppose to come out this summer.


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