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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blog No. 3-- In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith


Andrew Smith

Bibliographic Information:
Published September, 2009
Feiwal & Friends (Macmillan).
Grade Range: 7 and up, Age Range: 13 and up
ISBN: 978-0-312-37558-4, ISBN10: 0-312-37558-1, Young Adult Fiction, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 336 pages,

YALSA 2010 Best Books for Young Adults.

Reader’s Annotation:
Jonah Vickers, 16 and his younger brother Simon, 14, have a father in jail, a brother in Viet Nam, a mother who abandoned them, and a filthy, foodless trailer to live in—more than enough reason to hit the road. When they get picked up by psychopath Mitch and pregnant Lilly, they embark on the road trip from hell, discovering that maybe their empty lives weren’t so bad after all…

Plot Summary:
It is 1970. Brothers Jonah (16) and Simon (14) Vickers find themselves abandoned by their mother in a filthy trailer in New Mexico. Mom has gone looking for better times, leaving the boys to fend for themselves with a father in prison and an older brother fighting the good fight in View Nam. When their food runs out, the brothers set off on the only thing they can call their own—their aged horse—down the road to look for a better life. When the horse suddenly falls over, dead, Simon, the younger and bolder brother, sticks out his thumb for a ride. They are picked up by Mitch, a psychopath who delights in making everyone fear him. But Mitch is not alone: he is accompanied by Lilly, a 16-year-old girl, slightly pregnant, who is also looking to get to California. Things go awry when Mitch finds a statue of Don Quixote at an outdoor shop in New Mexico—and kills the owner for it. The boys find themselves on the road trip from hell, sharing the large convertible with a forged metal statue, a pregnant girl, and a violently insane nineteen-year-old murderer.

The boys try at various times to escape, but it is to no avail. Eventually, Jonah finds himself inexplicably drawn to the pregnant Lilly, which only serves to further anger crazy Mitch.

The only thing holding the boys together are the letters that Jonah carries around from his older brother—their “Hero” –who writes to the boys with the hope that he will soon be free to leave Viet Nam and reunite with them. But Jonah and Simon have to face some very hard truths about themselves and their precarious state on the road, learning about love and family loyalty, and trying desperately to stay alive. The one thing that keeps them going is the lone gun that Jonah carries in his backpack—complete with one bullet, just in case.

Critical Evaluation:
In many ways, Andrew Smith’s In the Path of Falling Objects can be easily compared to another very dark story—The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Both are bleak, carrying only the tiniest bit of hope to hang on to throughout each of the stories. In the Path of Falling Objects, the theme of hope is carried on the love of brother-to-brother. In The Road, hope comes from the love of father to son. In the best ways, In the Path of Falling Objects, and The Road are almost perfect companion pieces—each filled with the same grit, strength, fear and tenderness. In Smith’s story, the symbol “in the path” is a meteorite that Simon finds and clings to, almost as a talisman. In The Road, the symbol is a rickety old shopping cart that the man and the boy cling to, which contains a very minor semblance of their former lives.

In the Path of Falling Objects has multiple narrators, depicted by the gray words typed out above the title of each chapter. At the beginning, this devise is a bit difficult to adjust to, but eventually, serves to guide the reader into either a calm or agitated state, depending upon which character is “doing the talking.” In a way, this book could also be considered a Bildungsroman, as both Simon and Jonah do grow up throughout the course of the book. However, growing up is only a small piece of the puzzle: survival is the bigger piece.

The character of Lilly leaves us wondering whether she will ever experience redemption, or will she just move along aimlessly through life. Mitch, of course, is too violent for any of the other characters to develop any kind of empathy for him. But Simon, and especially Jonah, leave readers with the feeling that they need redemption, and must somehow, find it.

Reading level/Interest Age:
The publisher recommends this book for grades 7 and up and age 13 years or older. I disagree: this book is simply not suitable for anyone under fourteen. This is partially due to some of the implied sexual content in the books, but mostly because it is so downright scary. Smith draws his characters, especially the villains, in a real way, reaching down to the depths of his soul for the darkness that must linger there. Girls, but especially boys age 14 and up will both love and be scared by this book. I know I will never hitch-hike again!

Information about the Author:
Andrew Smith lives on a ranch high in the mountains above Los Angeles with his wife, son and daughter. In addition to writing novels, Smith teaches advanced placement classes in Economics and the social sciences at an LA-area high school. He also coaches rugby. Mr. Smith graduated from Newbury Park High School in the Conejo Valley (Ventura County) where he returns yearly since Ghost Medicine was published to work with his alma mater’s creative writing class.

I was introduced to Andrew Smith in 2008, when I first became teacher-librarian at Newbury Park High School, from where Mr. Smith graduated in 1976. He had emailed me about Ghost Medicine, his first novel, and wanted to give the library a complimentary copy. Of course I said yes! When I found out that he was going to appear at the local Barnes and Noble two weeks later, I jumped at the chance to meet him in person. I went and listened to his presentation. What particularly struck me was the reason he wrote Ghost Medicine. He felt that there were few “real” contemporary stories out in the world for teen boys. He wanted his son, who didn’t find reading very interesting, to have something to read that wasn’t “fantasy.” He wrote Ghost Medicine to share with his son, but he never intended it to be a young adult novel. He just wrote a story that he wanted to tell. In fact, Mr. Smith is quite vocal about the young adult genre, and feels that a good story is a good story—and a good story can be for anyone. Eventually, Mr. Smith ended up coming to my school to talk at two different assemblies of 350 students each about the writing and publishing process, and several months after that, came back to give me an autographed copy of his galley of in the path of falling objects. He didn’t capitalize the title on the galley.

Smith gets up every morning at 3:30 a.m. to write. He works for four hours, jogs, and then gets ready to go to his day-job as a high school teacher. His approach to being a successful author is to write with dedication. In the Path of Falling Objects, was released in October, 2009. The Marbury Lens, his newest, is due out in 2010.

Curriculum Ties:
Comparative Literature: A great pairing with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Booktalking Ideas:
In the Path of Falling Objects is a modern day thriller that begs its readers to hold on, despite the darkness and the horror that lurks in and out of the lives of these brothers. A desperate family life without any real parents guiding them, the brothers Jonah and Simon have to face life as best they can, despite the bad choices they make along the way.

Challenge Issues:

Why I Included This Book:
I read Ghost Medicine after first meeting the author, and then Mr. Smith gave me a galley copy of this book. I couldn’t put it down—I was horrified, angry, upset and ultimately thrilled the whole way through. It is a modern day story “noir” for teens. It is going to be a film, and I can’t wait to see it!

Cover image courtesy of publisher: http://us.macmillan.com/ghostmedicine

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