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Hugging the Rock: Susan Taylor Brown

Susan Taylor Brown was kind enough to send me a proof copy of her new book, Hugging the Rock (Tricycle Press, September 2006). Hugging the Rock is a middle grade novel written in verse. It's actually the first verse novel that I've read, and I'm already hooked. I realize that it won't be published for four months, but I simply can't resist writing about it now.

Hugging the Rock is the story of how pre-teen Rachel adjusts after her mentally ill mother leaves home, and how she learns to rely on her emotionally distant father (the "rock" of the title). She starts out in denial, not doing her chores, not doing her homework, not telling her best friend or her teacher what's going on. Gradually, Rachel begins to learn more about her mercurial mother, and why her mother couldn't stay. She also learns more about her father, as they work together to build a new life for themselves.

Rachel's voice is pitch perfect. The verse format works well in conveying her disjointed thoughts, and her up and down moods. The verse also makes the book fly by - I read it in one sitting. But it makes you want to go back and re-read individual poems, too. I have two favorite parts. The first is the page titled "Mother's Day". The rest of the page is just blank. As in, what is there to say, it's Mother's Day, and my mother went away and left because she didn't want to be with us. These words don't need to be said - they're right there, hidden, on the blank page. There's also a scene in which Rachel and her father are in the car, returning home from an emotional visit to their counselor, Dr. Dan. Dad tries to talk. Rachel shrugs. Dad tries again, and, we hear from Rachel "I shrug louder." It's brilliant!

This book packs a lot into relatively few words. Susan Taylor Brown offers insights into life with a mentally ill parent, how fathers parent differently from mothers, how personally kids take any parental rejection, how "sometimes dads are better moms than moms are", and how, ultimately, people adapt to changing circumstances. Hugging the Rock is beautifully written, and I give it my highest recommendation.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.