Friday, July 13, 2012

Jen's Picks: Dead To You

Greetings! I'm Jennifer Hawes, and I work with young adult books at the Charleston County Public Library. Welcome to my random thoughts about books for teens. If a book grabs you, click on any title to reserve a copy, or search CCPL's ebooks. Happy reading!

Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. When we meet him in Dead To You, he's 16 and awkwardly awaiting a reunion with his family at a train station. 

During that long gap of years, Ethan grew up with a woman he figures must have been responsible for his abduction. Maybe she'd just wanted a child—although she was hardly the model mom. She sold her body, abandoned him for periods of time, and eventually dumped him for good at a group home. Miserable, he ran away and became homeless.

That’s when he started looking at missing children reports and found news of the abduction. At last, he's about to meet his real family, one who will love him unconditionally. Sounds awesome, right?

And way too simple.

I read this book in one day, thanks to author Lisa McMann’s fast pacing and steady buildup of tension. McMann (who wrote Cryer's Cross and the Wake series) artfully captures a family reunion's true complexities. After all, the passing of so much time has left Ethan's parents and younger brother, Blake, virtual strangers to him. He essentially grew up apart from the rest of his family—even as they lived on together. He’s also plagued with mixed feelings about the woman who raised him and who really represents “mom” in his mind.

Worse, Ethan remembers nothing about his life before the abduction, a normal effect of trauma.

But Blake, who witnessed the abduction, remembers it all too well. He harbors a fury at Ethan. Why did Ethan get into the car with two strange men? Blake rages about the kidnapping and about living in the shadow of his parents’ ensuing years of anguish. And he grows more angry at Ethan for not remembering the few, precious years they shared as little boys. His anger builds until he decides that Ethan is an impostor, which hardly fosters the warm fuzzies between them.

Bright spots ease the tension, namely Ethan’s relationship with his newfound mother, which warms as she protects him from the turmoil, as a mother should, and as the woman who raised him did not. Ethan also grows truly fond of his little sister, whom he at first refers to as the "replacement child" (as in the child his parents had to replace him).

McMann skillfully dispels the unrealistic notion that just because people share DNA, their relationships will be hunky dory. Families are complex and messy, and there’s nothing like nine years of anxiety and resentment to inflame stressors like those Ethan’s family faces.

Finally, I must confess that I'm a real sucker for surprise endings, and this one sucker punches. See if you can spot it coming.

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