Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Themes: Coming of Age, Cancer, Family
Age Range: 5th through 8th Grade
Summary: from Goodreads
Thirteen-year-old Steven has a totally normal life: he plays drums in the All-Star Jazz band, has a crush on the hottest girl in the school, and is constantly annoyed by his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey. But when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven's world is turned upside down. He is forced to deal with his brother's illness and his parents' attempts to keep the family in one piece.
Middle school is hard enough without having a brother with leukemia. Jeffrey was already trying to negotiate the murky waters of boy-girl relationships when he finds out his brother is sick. Suddenly, the life of the entire family revolves around hospital visits, side-effects, and medical bills. Steven's mother takes on the bulk of the work, leaving Steven and his father alone to fend for themselves when his brother goes for treatment. Sonnenblick always does an excellent job writing realistic middle school characters, and while Steven is certainly a sympathetic character, he is not without his moments of self-doubt and selfishness.
Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie is not the only time that Sonnenblick has tackled the subject of childhood cancers. In his 2010 release After Ever After he comes at it from the point of view of the best friend of the patient. Both novels he shows a sensitivity to the subject that I can only assume means that he has had similar experiences with a loved one with cancer. One of the great things about both books is that they do not give the topic the "Lifetime movie" treatment. There is nothing saccharine or schmaltzy about his treatment of the subject-all of the characters, including the ones with cancer, are written as three-dimensional people with flaws and strengths alike. While there are certainly "awww" moments, especially towards the end, but Sonnenblick treats all of his characters like what they should read as, real people with real emotions and real issues.
There are some great opportunities for discussion with this book, making it good for guided reading or middle school book clubs. Sonnenblick himself is such a prolific, high quality writer that I think he'd make a good author study. He taught middle school English before he began writing full time, and if you get a chance to hear him speak, as I did at a reading conference in Illinois a few years ago, you should do it. Especially if you are someone who has a love of teaching writing. The man knows his stuff!
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