Blood Brothers, by S. A. Harazin, is a YA novel with the unusual setting of a hospital. I'm not talking about a few scenes that take place in a hospital, with our main character in a bed, or in a waiting room, or volunteering to help sick kids. No, in Blood Brothers, we see the hospital from the inside, with all its blood, sweat, and other unpleasantness. S. A. Harazin trained as a nurse, and her informed perspective shines through on nearly every page. For example, when the page operator calls for Dr. Strong, this means that someone strong is needed to deal with a problem. This detail feels real to me. This is a book that high school kids considering a career in medicine simply must read. Medicine is shown as meaningful, but is not glamorized in any way.
Recent high school graduate Clay Gardener is a Medical Tech in a small town Georgia hospital. He says: "This means I do anything I'm told to do." Clay works so that he can pay his expenses (his single parent father is a not very ambitious garbage truck driver, and expects Clay to pay half the rent). But Clay really works at the hospital because he finds value in it. He thinks:
"Heck, I'd probably work for free if I could afford it. When I'm at work I feel like I can be anybody, do anything. Even if I'm just dealing with a puking kid, it makes a difference. I belong here." (Page 22)
Clay wants to be a doctor, but considers his dream largely out of reach, due to his indifferent grades, and lack of money for college. His best friend Joey is the one on track to become a doctor. Joey, from a wealthy and stable family, was the class valedictorian, and is on his way to Duke in the fall. Joey, Clay's friend since childhood (pretty much his only friend), has also recently caught the eye of Clay's girlfriend, Michelle. This, needless to say, has caused some tension, and a quarrel. However, as the story begins, Clay is preparing to apologize to Joey. Their friendship is what's important to him. He doesn't even resent Joey for his opportunity to go to Duke. The two teens consider themselves "blood brother", and Clay is happy for Joey's success.
Unfortunately, however, Joey runs into a stumbling block on the road to success. Joey ingests something at a party, and has a bad reaction. He attacks Clay, in a drug-induced fit, and ends up in a coma in the hospital. Clay finds himself potentially culpable, because of having defended himself against Joey's attack. Even as he worries about Joey, he faces awkward questions from the policy and from Joey's parents.
The remainder of the book is nominally a mystery, as Clay seeks to understand what happened to Joey. However, it's really more of a coming of age story, as Clay, after living his life in Joey's shadow, learns to stand on his own. S. A. Harazin really knows Clay, inside and out. She conveys his hopelessness and lack of self worth in passage after passage. Clay demonstrates a strong need for approval, from the charge nurse at the hospital, from the police chief, from Michelle, from Clay's parents, reflecting his own father's lack of interest. Just about all of Clay's memories are wrapped up in his experiences with Joey, many of them situations in which Joey received material or emotional gifts that Clay didn't. Still, Clay never resents Joey. Instead, he internalizes a sense of being undeserving himself. Here are a few examples.
"The kids from high school have never had much in common with me, even less so now that they're all just weeks away from college. They wear hundred-dollar jeans and drive new cars. They throw parties and invite Joey, and I sometimes tag along with him, when I don't have to work. But even when I'm there, I'm not there. I'm always on the outside looking in, wishing I had a car, wishing I had money, wishing I had a life." (Page 43)
"I ride on the edge of the road. I'm always careful on my bike, just in case a drunk driver or someone using a cell phone comes along. A delivery truck roars by and shakes the ground. As I pass the Biggs County Animal Shelter, dogs howl. I imagine I've just escaped from prison and the dogs are after me." (Page 53)
"Without Joey around I feel like a lone traveler in a country where I don't speak the language." (Page 72)
My heart broke for Clay, and I wanted him to succeed. I found myself frustrated with him sometimes, too (as Joey apparently was), because I wanted him to stand up for himself, and be less passive about his life. But I was satisfied with the way he grew through the book, and somewhat teary-eyed at the end.
In some ways, Blood Brothers is a classic YA novel. We have: a single parent, indifferent and apparently unable to help; a girlfriend who turns out to be a disappointment; the feeling of having too many problems to surmount; and a concerned parental substitute. What carries Blood Brothers above the rest is S. A. Harazin's gift for description, never wordy, but able to convey a sense of place, as well as the depth of her characterization. The various adults in the novel are multi-faceted, and all have feet of, dare I say, clay. The only character who remains a bit of a cipher is Joey, and I think this is deliberate. It's clear what Joey means to Clay, but less clear why Joey has chosen Clay for his best friend. Part of the mystery of the novel is the search to understand the unconscious Joey, who we see primarily through Clay's memories.
I recommend Blood Brothers for teens or adults who are looking for something out of the ordinary, something with both action and character development. The medical details may be a bit much for younger kids, but they also make the story unique and memorable. Blood Brothers is well worth a look, and I look forward to S. A. Harazin's future work.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: July 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the author
Other Blog Reviews: Charlotte's Library, Mrs. Yingling Reads, Ronni's Reviews, Book Obsession, InfoDad.com
Author Interviews: Julie Bowie at classof2k7, YA Authors Cafe
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.