From first-time novelist Jordan Sonnenblick, a brave and beautiful story that will make readers laugh and break their hearts at the same time.
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. Salted with humor and peppered with devastating realities, DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE is a heartwarming journey through a year in the life of a family in crisis.
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Jordan Sonnenblick is the author of the acclaimed DRUMS, GIRLS, & DANGEROUS PIE, NOTES FROM THE MIDNIGHT DRIVER, ZEN AND THE ART OF FAKING IT, and the sequel to DRUMS called AFTER EVER AFTER. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two children.Review:
DRUMS, GIRLS AND DANGEROUS PIE
Author: Sonnenblick, Jordan
Review Date: SEPTEMBER 01, 2005
Price (hardback): $16.99
Publication Date: 9/1/2005 0:00:00
ISBN (hardback): 0-439-75519-0
First-time author Sonnenblick has pulled off a rare feat. Not only did he make this story about a 13-year-old boy, whose little brother contracts leukemia, real and raw and heart-rending, he made it hysterically funny as well. Steven Alper, who is untalented in sports but terrific on the drums, is giving his pesky five-year-old brother Jeffrey oatmeal when Jeffrey, who has been complaining recently that his "parts hurt," falls off a stool and gets a nosebleed that just won't quit. That night Steven finds out that Jeffrey has leukemia. Although the plot—Steven's stressed-out family has no energy for him and he becomes a source of strength for his brother while simultaneously falling apart himself—is conventional, the subsidiary characters at home, school and the hospital have a flesh-and-blood reality and the situations ring true. Moreover, the reader falls in love with the brothers, laughing and crying by turns and rooting for both of them until it almost hurts. (Fiction. 12+)
Booklist Starred Review 9/15/05
\\\\\\\\*STAR* Sonnenblick, Jordan. Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie. Sept. 2005. Scholastic, $16 (0-439-75519-0).
Gr. 5–8. Steven Alper is a typical eighth-grader––smarter than some, certainly a better drummer than most, but with the usual girl problems and family trials. Then, on October 7, his five-year-old brother Jeffery falls, has a nosebleed that doesn't stop, and is diagnosed with leukemia. All hell breaks loose. Mrs. Alper's days and nights revolve around getting Jeffrey to his chemotherapy treatments, and Mr. Alper retreats into a shell, coming out only occasionally to weep over the mounting medical bills. Steven becomes the forgotten son, who throws himself into drumming, even as he quits doing his homework and tries to keep his friends from finding out about Jeffrey's illness. A story that could have morphed into melodrama is saved by reality, rawness, and the wit Sonnenblick infuses to Steven's first-person voice. The recriminations, cares, and nightmares that come with a cancer diagnosis are all here, underscored by vomiting, white blood cell counts, and chemotherapy ports. Yet, this is also about regrouping, solidarity, love, and hope. Most important for a middle-grade audience, Sonneblick shows that even in the midst of tragedy, life goes on, love can flower, and that the one thing you can always change is yourself. ––Ilene Cooper
SONNENBLICK, Jordan. Drums, girls & dangerous pie. Scholastic. 273p. Steven is in the 8th grade; he's a talented drummer who is part of an all-city jazz band, one of the youngest members. He's got a crush on a beautiful girl, a math whiz; but another girl seems more interested in him. That's the drums and girls part of the title. The "dangerous pie" is more difficult to explain, but it is something outrageous Steven's little brother Jeffrey says. Jeffrey is a precocious kindergarten student, who drives Steven nuts, but Steven doesn't realize at the beginning of the story just how important Jeffrey is in his life. Amidst the quite funny wisecracks and comments (Steven is considered a good musician with a wicked sense of humor) comes tragedy when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia. Everything changes: to manage the cancer therapy, the mother has to quit her teaching job and thus the family income is cut in half; the father retreats into a non-communicative shell of grief; Steven is troubled and angry; little Jeffrey endures painful and nauseating treatments. Months later, everyone in the family is exhausted but learning to communicate, to pull together better. The school psychologist offers this wisdom to Steven: "Instead of agonizing about the things you can't change, why don't you try working on the things you can change?" Sonnenblick describes family life with great skill, and the frequently humorous anecdotes are entertaining, even when the basic story is grim. He manages to balance between horror and humor. This is the author's first novel, and he brings to it his knowledge of middle school students (he's been a middle school English teacher) and his understanding of how families work (he's married and the father of two children). Readers will love each and every character. Claire Rosser, KLIATT
Steven is attempting to survive the ordinarily painful life of an eighth-grader when his family gets hit with something out of the ordinary: his younger brother, five-year-old Jeffrey, is diagnosed with leukemia. Suddenly the Alper household is focused on Jeffrey's chemotherapy, Jeffrey's white-cell count, Jeffrey's temperature; meanwhile Steven's father, overwhelmed by the situation and the bills, checks out from the family, and Steven's school performance dwindles to nothing. Steven's narration reflects his credible seesaw between self-interest and protective panic: he's furious that no one in his family will be able to see him perform his great solo in concert, but he's devastated at the torment his annoying yet beloved baby brother must undergo. Less deft, however, is the plotting, which is inclined toward predictability (Steven realizes that his female friend is a more suitable girlfriend than the hot classmate he's been panting after); Jeffrey is often contrivedly rather convincingly drawn, and there's a jarring contrast between Stephen's heavily glib voice and the interpolated medical information he often conveys. The humor and earnestness of Steven's narration may nonetheless reassure young preteens who feel similarly helpless in the face of life's big and small challenges,
Jordan Sonnenblick Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie
273 pp. Scholastic 9/05 ISBN 0-439-75519-0 $16.99
Sonnenblick's debut novel is a strikingly honest portrayal of a little boy's struggle with cancer as witnessed by his older brother. Eighth-grader Steven is mainly preoccupied with the drums he loves, the girls who ignore his existence, and the constant annoyance of five-year-old Jeffrey's presence (epitomized by the "dangerous pie" incident, in which Steven's prized drumsticks are used to stir a "zesty blend of coffee grounds, raw eggs and their smashed shells, Coke, uncooked bacon,
and three Matchbox racing cars"). Then Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia, and life departs from the expected. The novel wisely avoids
a resolution of Jeffrey's illness, focusing instead on the family's painful process of adjustment. A few unfortunate subplots–the predictable romantic triangle, the brief introduction and subsequent death of young leukemia patient Samantha–are more formula than innovation, and
the epilogue's sudden about-face toward optimism cheapens the anguish of previous chapters. Nevertheless, Sonnenblick's central characters resonate with sincerity as they navigate a precarious balancing act between daily life and hospital drama with heart and humor. Jeffrey is mischievous and endearing, but it is Steven, a convincing maelstrom of brotherly love, fear, and resentment, who will break readers' hearts. CLAIRE E. GROSS
PW Sonnenblick's insightful debut novel charts the way a talented 13-year-old drummer's life changes when his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, is diagnosed with leukemia. Steven, whose story unfolds through his journals for English class, was the first drummer ever admitted into the All-City High School Band in the seventh grade, and this year, as an eighth grader, his future looks even brighter. After Jeffrey is diagnosed with cancer, his mother must spend more time taking Jeffrey to treatment and the family's finances begin to suffer; Steven takes refuge in the basement, practicing the drums for hours. The author perceptively records the struggle within Steven to lash out against his parents for feeling neglected and to feel compassion for his brother, as well as the normal adolescent concerns, including overlooking childhood friend Annette ("It's like she's figured out how to play [piano] like Beethoven and Thelonious Monk but hasn't quite mastered the art of being a girl yet"), who clearly has a crush on him, in favor of unattainable girl-next-door Renee. The journal structure is not always entirely believable, but Steven's thoughts and feelings are (after his mother returns from one of Jeffrey's treatments, Steven has an epiphany: "I realized without any shadow of a doubt that she would have done the same for me"). Readers may well feel inspired by the teen's gradual growth over the course of the novel, and drummers especially will enjoy this insider's view. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)
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