“what they always tell us” By Martin Wilson (2008); 288 pages

Started reading Nov 15, finished reading Nov 20

My friend Joanna went to the local book signing for this new young adult novel and lent me her copy afterward. I’m glad she did– it was perfect for a less-than-a-week-read, and I don’t think I would have known about it otherwise. Joanna attended Central High here in Tuscaloosa with the author, and that’s where the story takes place. As with lots of first-time novelists, the story seems to be at least somewhat autobiographical. Which of course has led me to ask Joanna every time I see her if she knows how much of the story is true. She doesn’t know, but thats OK. I liked the book anyway.

The story is about two brothers and the year that follows the younger one’s sort-of suicide attempt. Although I found that brother to be a more fleshed-out character — not surprising, since he’s the one who seems to be Martin Wilson — in general the book is well-written and feels very authentically high school, circa early 90’s. (I don’t remember anyone ever actually mentioning that it’s the early 90’s, but there is a conspicuous lack of electronic communication and cell phone use; that and I know what year the author graduated.) The descriptions of life in Tuscaloosa are very authentic–which is fun if you live here. You too can pick out all the familiar locations and the very thinly veiled identities of some local characters!

Anyway, the novel is less grim than you’d think, given the almost-suicide with which it begins. About a quarter of the way through things start to change directions– at which point I thought: “Oh, now I see where this is going…” I must not have read the inside jacket too closely because it clearly mentions that “…[Alex is] surprised to find more than just a supportive teammate in his brother’s friend Nathen”. So there you go– one of the major plotlines. Sorry to give it away, but I guess it’s not much of a spoiler if it’s a detail mentioned right on the inside cover?