What They Always Tell Us
By: Martin Wilson
James: Popular, smart, and athletic, James seems to have it all. But the only thing James really wants is his college acceptance letter, so he can get far away from Alabama after high school. He's tired of the same old parties; the tennis team; his so-called girlfriend, Alice; his ex, Clare - and especially his quiet younger brother, Alex. In a town where secrets are hard to keep, everyone knows what Alex did at the annual back-to-school party. The only question is why.
Alex: With his friends no longer talking to him and his brother constantly in motion, Alex is prepared to get through junior year on his own. And he would, if his ten-year-old neighbor, Henry, didn't keep showing up, looking for company. Even James seems intrigued by Henry, and by the strange cars that come and go from his house across the street. But what Alex cares most about is running, and when he's encouraged to try out for cross-country, he's surprised to find more than just a supportive teammate in his brother's friend Nathen.
Thoughtful and moving, What They Always Tell us is a powerful debut novel about the bond between two brothers - and the year that changes everything. (from Goodreads.com)
I love this book. I realize that I say that about alot of books, but I guess my love of books is wide-flung, because this is another to add to the list. I generally read alot of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, with some historical fiction and pictures thrown in, so this book, a debut by Wilson was slightly out of my norm. I picked it up at the library while I was looking for books to read ahead of the Greater Rochester Teen Book Fest (which was last weekend) and the title and cover caught my eye. I am so glad I picked this book up because it told a really important story in a wonderful way.
Both the lead characters, James and Alex are extremely well written. Through both of them, Wilson took characters that could have become stereotypes, and made them so much more. Instead of being pigeonholed into the role as the "athletic older brother", or the "outcast freak", or even the "gay kid", they were shown as three dementional, well rounded individuals. The same people you pass by everyday. There's what you see on the surface, and then there's the part of you that that is sometimes hidden, only shown to those who you love and trust enough to let in. I felt like both Wilson and his characters trusted us, as the reader, enough to let us see who they really are and it was refreshing and wonderful to read. Wilson didn't shy away from delving into some tough issues like depression and suicide, bullying, love and what it feels like to be gay (and by extension to simply be different) at a time in your life when you are just trying to get by and figure out who you are.
I also have to mention James and Alex's neighbor, Henry, a lonely kid who spends alot of time just hanging around and reading the dictionary. Both Alex and James befriend Henry and it's kind of through helping Henry that they find their way back to eachother. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding Henry and his mother, who don't really fit into their neighborhood. If I have one criticizm of this book, it's that Henry's story felt a little chopped off to me. I don't want to give anything away, but I wish we had learned a little bit more about Henry and his father and how that all resolved itself. It's a small thing that didn't really impact how much I enjoyed the book, but Henry was such a great character that I wanted more.
This story has alot of layers to it, but Wilson handles it in a way that you never feel lost or confused. Also Wilson never shies away from, or tries to sugarcoat, being honest about the special kind of hell that High School is for most kids, but he also reminds us that sometimes you just have to keep your heart open and keep moving forward and that eventually you will find your place in the world. The story pulls you forward and it is a wonderful read that I would recommend to everyone, especially teens, who are dealing with the same issues Wilson writes about.
On a side note- I had the good fortune of seeing Wilson present at the Book Fest and to talk to him briefly during the autograph session (where, of course, I also got an autograph). It was a great time and I'm extremely glad that I made the drive over to Rochester to attend!
As always- check out Wilson's webpage which has his blog as well as a cute section with Henry's words (he wasn't reading that dictionary for nothing).