Tel Aviv erases a revival: E.T.
Have you guessed yet? Can you figure them out? Yup, those are palindromes: words, phrases or numbers that can be read forward and backward. Go ahead and re-read them, they work! Logan, the lonely narrator, learns to read and write palindromes, among other important lessons in moving forward and thinking backward, in this mysterious middle grades novel about acceptance, betrayal and the often insufferable pain of puberty.
When my 7th graders were “speed dating” the newest books in our library last week, almost every child burst out laughing the second they read the first line of Ann Dee Ellis’s eye-opening novel This is What I Did. Immediately, this little green book soared to the top of most of the kiddoes’ preference lists for Spring Break Partner Reading. Why? Probably because the simple cover and minimal summary on the back belied the biting tone and wit of this theme-rich novel that begins with the line: Last week Bruce kicked me in the balls at Scouts and all his buddies were there laughing and I started crying.
With only 3 minutes to date each book, the kids did not get much of a chance to really get to know this novel, as the story unfolds slowly and carefully, one clue at a time. But that viscerally engaging opening line, coupled with the bizarre black cut-out images of mundane objects quickly wooed over many of the boys in my class. This weekend, I set out to read that book (the first of 5 that I need to finish by the end of Spring Break) and 24 hours after cracking it open, I sit here happily typing, hoping to convey the importance of this novel to my 7th grade readers.
Logan is not a lovable, heroic narrator. He is no Katniss. He is no Tessa. Logan does not grab life by the horns and wrestle it into submission. Logan, on the other hand, is defeated. Life has dealt him a sad hand at a young age, and he spends most of this novel trying to avoid cleaning up a big mess he unintentionally made before the exposition even began. The atmosphere of Logan’s world is overwhelmingly tense and stark. He spends most of his days deciphering palindromes and attempting to disappear into the gray walls of his school, his home, and his small rumor-mill of a town. But a wacky girl named Laurel (think Stargirl from Jerry Spinelli’s famous dissertation on being unique) refuses to give up on forming some sort of freaky friendship peppered with bizarre notes and secret meetings in the bushes with Logan. It is because of Laurel and because of Logan’s own personal growth that we learn, bit by bit, the mystery behind our narrator’s silence and the cruelty of boys like Bruce (think Draco Malfoy and his miscreant buddies in the Harry Potter books).
Ann Dee Ellis lures her reader in with snippets of flashbacks to the days when Logan was happy before THE EVENT transpired. She leaves us little clues by allowing us to glimpse the strange and frightening behaviors of some of the seemingly minor characters in the story. She woos us with funny palindromes and tiny drawings, leaving us distracted and confused. And then, about three-fourths of the way in, we figure it out. Logan and his behaviors finally become clear to us… sort of.
This is What I Did had me hooked from the get-go and I didn’t put it down until I finished (or unless I was forced to by frustrating necessities such as dinner and sleep). Logan may not be a hero. But Logan is real. The author was purposeful in her attempt to create a truly 3-dimensional character who has made mistakes and is seeking redemption. Not in some grand adventurous way, but rather, in a realistic, painstakingly slow and often frightening way. This book is scary. It is funny. It is touching. It is real. And it is a good read. I hope that after Spring Break, more kiddoes will pick it up, because it is hard to put down.