Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 5th March 2013
Genre: YA, Contemporary
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“I hate myself but I love Walt Whitman, the kook. Always positive. I need to be more positive, so I wake myself up every morning with a song of myself.”James Whitman is a teenage boy who loves Walt Whitman. He loves poetry and photography and trees and birds. He hugs trees to make himself feel better. He suffers from anxiety and depression and has an imaginary pigeon as his therapist. His parents are abusive, and his sister no longer lives in the house with them, ever since she got into a fight at school and was expelled and subsequently kicked out of the house. He wants his sister back.
Sixteen-year-old James Whitman has been yawping (à la Whitman) at his abusive father ever since he kicked his beloved older sister, Jorie, out of the house. James’s painful struggle with anxiety and depression—along with his ongoing quest to understand what led to his self-destructive sister’s exile—make for a heart-rending read, but his wild, exuberant Whitmanization of the world and keen sense of humor keep this emotionally charged debut novel buoyant.
This book is about James trying to get his sister back. Trying to figure out what exactly happened that led to her getting expelled. Trying to understand her more, and realising they have more in common than he'd thought. And that everything is more complicated than it seems.
It's about James dealing with his anxiety and depression, confronting the problems in his life, learning to stand up for himself and for his sister.
It was a very engaging read. I absolutely loved James' voice. It was so earnest and authentic. I was originally going to do this review as a joint review with my boyfriend but he couldn't find the time to finish the book. He did read about half of it and he said he found it difficult to read because of how much he identified with James' experience, as someone who suffers from anxiety himself, and he found that James' thought processes were very similar to his own, so I suppose Roskos got that part spot on. I just found myself utterly immersed in James' thoughts and in his life. This is one of those books where you really do just sort of live in the narrator's head for a while, and it's brilliant.
James has a crush on a girl called Beth, who's head of the literary magazine at school, but Beth has a boyfriend. I thought there was going to be more romance than there actually was, but I think I appreciated that in the end, because what with all the other stuff that's going on in James' life, I think it was really nice just to see him become good friends with Beth over the course of the book and learn to savour that friendship as it is.
James doesn't have many friends, but he does have a best friend called Derek. I really enjoyed their friendship in this book. It was the biggest source of humour. I just loved their conversations, their jokes, the way James started to be able to share deeper stuff with Derek and confide in him about his problems, how Derek was so willing to help him and just instantly so accepting.
Despite the heavy subject matter, the book is full of humour. It's sad, yes. How could it not be? There are many little devastating moments, but there are also moments of wonder and optimism. I thought maybe the ending was a little too easy and too positive after all that has preceded it, but anyway, it is definitely a very hopeful book for all its pain and sadness.
To sum up, this book is kind of a delight. It's a little weird and sad but it's so refreshing and funny and sweet too. James tries to celebrate life the way Walt Whitman's poetry does. A lot of the time he fails. But sometimes he succeeds. And it's really a joy to read about it all.