This is Week 4 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.
After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
Tad Ibsen is a scrawny kid who walks into the classroom on crutches, muttering angrily to himself, with a huge red scar across the side of his head. Why does the teacher seat the new kid next to Jeffrey Alper? “Suddenly I get it,” Jeffrey explains to the reader. “I don’t always catch on so fast, but this time, I put two and two together…I lean over and whisper, ‘Hi, I’m Jeffrey. I had cancer, too.’ He looks at me like I’m a particularly loathsome slice of school-lunch meat loaf and says, ‘Wow, congratulations! What do you want, a medal?’” Of course, they’re best friends from that moment on.
Jeffrey is a survivor of leukemia, diagnosed when he was four. The three years of treatment forced him to lose his curly blond hair (now it’s “brown and straight and really dorky”) and left him tired, bruised and nauseated. Though he’s glad the torture of treatments is over, the mega-doses of chemotherapy left him with so-called late effects, including slow processing, “another way of saying that people can really make me look dumb if they’re quick talkers.” And the ability he had to do math when he was a little kid? Gone. Which wouldn’t be so terrible except that Jeffrey’s dad, an accountant and all-around math whiz, holds Jeffrey responsible for every failing math grade.
Eighth grade starts pretty well, though, when a gorgeous girl from California becomes his girlfriend, to Jeffrey’s continual amazement. He keeps up his regimen of riding his bike sixty miles a week, so he’s in pretty good shape. But then disaster strikes, in the form of a letter from the school superintendent about state standardized testing. This year, for the first time, Jeffrey will be required to pass the tests in order to be promoted. There’s nothing else to do but shred the letter in the garbage disposal and hope his parents never find out.
Tad finds out, of course, and he comes up with a plan. He promises not to let Jeffrey’s parents know about the state test, and he’ll tutor Jeffrey in math on the sly. In return, Tad promises he’ll finally start working out so that, instead of using his wheelchair, he can actually walk across the stage at graduation.
After that comes the relapse, then Jeffrey’s long ride, the state testing fiasco, the lawsuit threat, and the Great Eighth-Grade Walkout. Sonnenblick mixes sarcastic middle school humor with the poignant story of a friendship that ends.
Fans will want to check out Sonnenblick’s previous book, “Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie
,” another mix of humor and sadness that tells the story of Jeffrey’s illness from the point of view of his older brother, Steven. You can find out more about Jordan Sonnenblick in this interview.