Saturday, April 27, 2024

Not Nothing by Gayle Forman

 I was excited to get my hands on today's read, since it dives into history while playing in the contemporary world. Nope, no time travel. Instead, it centers around a boy, who is helping out at an nursing home and strikes a friendship with one of the residents, a 107 year-old man.

While growing up, we lived across the alleyway from a bachelor, who was 99 years old. Us siblings would take turns visiting him in the afternoon for half-an-hour or so. And we loved it. There'd be green grapes and saltines for us to snack on, while he listened to our stories (and we told him everything). Then, sometimes, he'd tell us stories about his life, while building the Panama Canal. He was on the third ship to ever cross it, too.

So many people have interesting moments in life.

Anyway, this one heads into tales from WWII, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it handles things. 

by Gayle Forman
Middle Grade Contemporary
288 pages
ages 8 to 12

AUGUST 27th!!!

"The book we all need at the time we all need it.” —Katherine Applegate, Newbery Award–winning author of The One and Only Ivan In this middle grade novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Gayle Forman, a boy who has been assigned to spend his summer volunteering at a senior living facility learns unexpected lessons that change the trajectory of his life.

To say Alex has had it rough is an understatement. His father’s gone, his mother is struggling with mental health issues, and he’s now living with an aunt and uncle who are less than excited to have him. Almost everyone treats him as though he doesn’t matter at all, like he’s nothing. So when a kid at school actually tells him he’s nothing, Alex snaps, and gets violent. Fortunately, his social worker pulls some strings and gets him a job at a nursing home for the summer rather than being sent to juvie. There, he meets Josey, the 107-year-old Holocaust survivor who stopped bothering to talk years ago, and Maya-Jade, the granddaughter of one of the residents with an overblown sense of importance. Unlike Alex, Maya-Jade believes that people care about what she thinks, and that she can make a difference. And when Alex and Josey form an unlikely bond, with Josey confiding in him, Alex starts to believe he can make a difference—a good difference—in the world. 

If he can truly feel he matters, Alex may be able to finally rise to the occasion of his own life.


'Opportunities' takes on new meaning in a novel with depth and heart.

Alex has gotten himself into trouble but has been given a second chance from the courts by helping out at a nursing home. His father left long ago, and he's been temporarily separated from his mother due to her mental issues. The aunt and uncle he's living with see him as a burden and make their opinion clear constantly. The nursing home is not exactly a place Alex wants to be. Not only does it smell and is filled with zombies, but the person in charge of him is a girl about his age, who is as bossy and irritating as can be. When he runs across Josey, a 107-year-old resident who hasn't spoken a word for the last five years, Alex finds someone to connect with...especially since Josey deems that Alex is the first person worth talking to. As Josey reveals his life during the WWII years, not only does Alex start seeing things in a new light, but his own life starts changing.

Alex is a bit lost in life, especially since he's gotten himself into trouble with the courts. It's not said what he did until the end of the book (which wasn't my thing but does have its purpose), but it's clear that he's dealing with a very rough family life. He's got an attitude and is rough on the edges, but there's enough goodness shining through to see his good heart. His situation is easy to sympathize with, and some of his comments do add just the right amount of snark and humor. So, he's a well-rounded character, which is easy to root for and connect with.

Then, there's Josey, the 107-year-old, who not only adds a nice twist with his wisdom but opens the door to historical aspects of WWII. His stories center around his relationship with the love of his life and take unexpected directions, which build the tension while also giving insights into the time period. Josey holds quite a bit of personality, which comes across clearly with much of the novel written from his point of view. These carry a third-person, omniscient voice, in which he refers to Alex as 'the boy'. His tales from the past are printed in a slightly different font to make it clear when he's heading back in time. So, things never grow confusing despite the constant back and forth.

Even the other characters battle with their own issues and carry distinct personalities, which help guide Alex along his way to learning to embrace opportunities. This makes the read quick-paced with something new happening with every turn of the page, since so much is coming together. 

There's a lot being explored in these pages. There are family issues, problems of living as a foster child (even when with relatives), moments of therapy, dealing with cancer, and more. Then, there's the historical details of WWII and concentration camps. All of this is set in a nursing home, where even  problems surrounding such institutions and people also somewhat come to light. Still, the story doesn't weigh down, but it does hold a pretty serious tone even with a few lighter moments here and there to keep it entertaining and molded to the middle grade age group.

Readers, who enjoy diving into heartfelt reads with inspiring character arc, will enjoy this one. It's also nice for anyone wanting to learn more about WWII and life at that time. It's not for everyone, but it does carry a lot of goodness.

And here she is...

Award-winning author and journalist Gayle Forman has written several bestselling novels, including those in the Just One Day series, Where She Went, and the #1 New York Times bestseller If I Stay, which has been translated into more than forty languages and was adapted into a major motion picture. Her first middle grade novel, Frankie & Bug, was a New York Times Best Children’s Book of 2021. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

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