Wednesday, December 19, 2012

REVIEW: Right Behind You

Giles, G.  (2007).  Right Behind You.  New York:  Little, Brown, and Company.

292 pages.

Appetizer:  When he was nine years old, Kip set another boy on fire.  The boy died several days later due to his injuries.  After years of being institutionalized and therapy, Kip is released to his father's care and hopeful to live a normal life.

But having a normal life may prove impossible.  Kip is consumed by his guilt; not only for killing the boy, but also for the impact his actions have had on his father.

Although his name had never been made public, Kip's arson had become a media sensation, with images of his family's Alaskan cottage being broadcast.  When he is released, Kip and his father must live under assumed names and move to the Midwest.  As Kip struggles to let go of his anger and control his guilt to become a normal boy named Wade, he must navigate the halls of a high school and try to make friends for the first time.  But all of his hopes may prove impossible because the guilt, the consequences, are always RIGHT BEHIND HIM!

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.  I had to press 'caps lock.'

I was really impressed with Right Behind You at first.  I liked how Giles managed to make me feel sympathetic for Kip as he prepared to leave the hospital and try to start a new life.  Some of my engagement faded around midway through the book though.  Giles skips ahead a few years and Kip/Wade both becomes a star athlete and starts to drink.  I started to feel a slight disconnect with the book.  Instead of jumping ahead a few years, I would have preferred to be with Kip's character during his initial day-to-day struggle.  Plus, Kip/Wade describes how swimming "drowned out any thought in" his head (p. 183).  My experience as a swimmer was the opposite--it was a good time to think because it was you in a muffled world.

Right Behind You does come to a satisfactory conclusion and contains wonderful topics and themes to discuss; like the value and burden of guilt, the complex emotions and motives that influenced Kip/Wade, the responsibilities and consequences of choices, the exploration of who were victims in the situations Kip/Wade faced, and, of course, empathy for characters in complex situations, etc.

When it comes to young adult novels that explore the mental states of characters who would kill another character, this book stands out in my mind as one that presents the experience authentically and respectfully.

Dinner Conversation:

"He stood in front of me, soaked by the rain.  It sluiced down his face into his eyes and mouth, but he didn't make a move to wipe it away.
He cradled something wrapped in an olive green poncho.
"There are three things you need to know about me,"
he said.
"First, you don't know my real name.
"Second, I murdered someone once.
"Third...well, maybe this will tell you." (p. 1)

"On the afternoon of his seventh birthday, I set Bobby Clarke on fire.
I was nine.
It was all about Bobby's birthday present.
A baseball glove." (p. 5)

"And Mom.  She went and died.  I was nine years old.  How could she do that to me?"  I picked up the bowl of multicolored candies and flung them across the room.  The plastic bowl made a decent thud against the door.  But...I--I am NOT a monster!"
"You're angry.  You were carrying a lot of weight for someone that young.  All the people that were supposed to protect you seemed to have let you down." (p. 31)

"Change my first name, too?
"I know it's a lot."
"Let's see--no mother, house, home, past, last name, first name?  I won't know who I am."
"It might feel that way at first."
It would feel like erasing myself.  Well, maybe Kip McFarland shouldn't be around anymore.  Bobby Clarke wasn't.  Could I shed Kip's guilt along with his name?" (p. 63)

"I was Wade Madison and had papers to prove it.  Song of Jack and Carrie Madison.  New residents of Whitestone, Indiana.  I had a new backpack and a class schedule and the totally wrong clothes.  Alaska is all about flannel.  Indiana looked to be all about long-sleeved tees.  I had the wrong shoes.  At least I was prepared to be wrong." (p. 81)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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