Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sign Language by Amy Ackley

Abby's father is dying of cancer.  Abby deals with this mostly by pretending that it isn't happening, until her father really dies.  Now Abby has to figure out how to get through her days, with little help from her mother who has fallen apart.  Abby knows her friend Spence will always be there to support her, but Abby finds she's pushing everyone away who tries to help.

The book is split into two parts, "Before and During" and "After."  The book spans about three years; the year Abby's father is dying, the year after his death, and the year after that.  It was interesting that the book covered such a span of time.  In most of the YA I've read where a character dying is the main focus of the book, it either focuses on the process of dying, or the immediate aftermath.  This looked at the entire process, from the original diagnosis, to the first year, to the year after.  

I thought this was an unusually realistic portrayal of the loss of a loved one.  No one was being a saint.  There was no wise, dying prophet character.  People are angry and hurt and sad and completely fall apart.  This perhaps doesn't make as good a story.  I think some readers would get tired of reading about Abby's day-to-day struggle that spans years.  It certainly showed real people though, and that real people don't always deal well with what life gives them.

Abby deals with her father's diagnosis originally by ignoring it.  "Cancer" isn't mentioned for a very long time.  Abby is still in middle school when her father first gets sick, and it wasn't clear if she was just too young to understand what was happening, or if she was deliberately pushing it aside.  It turned out that it was some of both.

As her father deteriorates, Abby struggles with how to act.  She's becoming a teenager, a difficult enough transition as it is, and she also needs to figure out how to interact with her mother and father.  She wants to help, but she doesn't know how.  She's angry with her mother all the time, and although she doesn't want to admit it, she's angry with her father too.  Throughout it all, she has her friend Spence, who is her support, and who clearly likes her but that's another thing Abby either doesn't see or chooses to ignore.

After the death of her father, Abby's mother falls apart, and it takes her a long time to put herself back together.  Abby, again, feels disconnected from everyone.  She isn't able to cry or tell anyone how she's feeling.  She pretty much cuts herself off from all feeling, and her mother isn't able to see of help her.  Again, Spence is her support, but Abby pushes him away.

Abby and her family go through all the stages of grief, but not at the same rate.  Abby's mother tries to move forward before Abby is ready to.  When Abby's mother decides to sell the house, Abby is furious.  She feels like her mother is taking everything away from her.  I found myself sympathizing with Abby and feeling annoyed at her mother, although I know her mother's reactions to the situation made sense as well.  Abby's mother was feeling just as overwhelmed as her children, and for some time, she wasn't really able to help them.  Again, this was plenty realistic but as a reader who was privy to Abby's inner thoughts, I wished her mom could have helped her more, even though Abby was pushing her away.

I think this is an excellent book for someone who is going through or experiencing loosing someone they care about, for both middle grade and YA readers.

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