In the Garage by Alma Fullerton is a quick yet powerful young adult read. The story is told in alternating perspectives by two 16-year-old best friends. Barbara Jean Belanger, or BJ, doesn't consider herself attractive. She has a port-wine stain on her face, weighs more than she would like, and is decidedly not one of the popular girls. Her mother, now gone, damaged BJ's self-esteem permanently when BJ was very young, and she doesn't trust easily.
On the surface, it's not clear why the more attractive and popular Alex Fitzgerald would be BJ's best friend. He's a basketball player, and is also in a band. But Alex defended BJ from some bullies when they were eight, and he was the new kid, and has stuck with her ever since ever since. At least until the insidious whisperings of a pair of more subtle bullies cause BJ, and then Alex, to have doubts about their friendship. The consequences are gut-wrenching.
As the story begins, Alex is dead (this is clear in the first chapter), but we don't know how or why he died. BJ, struggling with what to say at his memorial service, reflects back on "how it all began." Her diary-like thoughts are interspersed with Alex's journal entries, which are written in verse. A tragedy of miscommunication and high school cruelty is clear.
This is not another one of those stories where the boy-girl best friends fall in love. This story is about friendship, and how important it is for survival. On the positive side, it's clear from the beginning how important BJ is to Alex, even though she isn't pretty or thin or popular. For BJ, Alex is her lifeline, the person she looks up to most. As circumstances and secret doubts pull them apart, Alex laments in his journal:
I feel like I've been
by my best friend.
I need to talk to BJ,
because she knows
all about being different.
And she knows
about being strong.
And I know she can teach me.
But right now,
she doesn't have time
for me and I'm
Alex has a secret, clear though not explicitly spelled out in his journal entries. And his secret, combined with pressure from his father, and with his growing distance from BJ, is tearing him apart. He writes:
I'm screaming so loud
I get headaches.
I could talk about this book all day, reflecting on the things it touches upon. How parents, even loving parents, can damage their children. How mean and downright toxic high school kids can be to one another. How hard it is in our society to have any kind of physical deformity. And how important it is to have friends who love you for your inner self. While it deals with this issues, and others, In the Garage never feels like it's trying to get across a particular message. It's a painful but ultimately redemptive story about two friends named BJ and Alex, who have the misfortune to face these issues. I highly recommend this book for high school students.
Book: In the Garage
Author: Alma Fullerton
Publisher: Red Deer Press
Original Publication Date: September 2006
Age Range: 13 and up
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher. This book was nominated for the Cybils award in Young Adult Fiction.
Other Blog Reviews: Little Willow, Kim Baccellia
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.