As usual, we had great food and thoughtful discussion at our last meeting. We began with the picture book, Waiting by Kevin Henkes, and many of us stated that we were 'still waiting' for a story. We knew the book had garnered a lot of positive buzz as well as several 2016 children's book award honors, but -- we spent our time trying to figure out why!?! We liked the illustrations, especially the full-page spreads that showed the changing of the seasons as the little figurines sat on the windowsill -- WAITING. We felt it was sad that the little porcelain elephant, who was a newcomer to the scene, fell down and shattered...we also felt that the owl looked a bit guilty! What we found missing, besides an actual story, was any indication of the presence of a child anywhere in that room. We also wondered how young children might react to hearing this story read to them...it didn't seem to us that they would be particularly thrilled, or even interested. Perhaps we were wrong.... but so it goes.
We had a great discussion of the novel, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. We all agreed that it was an incredible -- though sometimes very difficult to read -- story, and that the writing was definitely deserving of the 2016 National Book Award for Young Adult Fiction that Shusterman received. Some people had problems with switching back and forth in alternate chapters between the real events in the main character, Caden's, life and the fantasy world created by his mental illness, which took place on a pirate ship as he attempted to travel to the deepest trench in the ocean -- something with which the real Caden was obsessed. We appreciated the symbolism and metaphors that were evident throughout, and we thought that the look into the mind of a teenager suffering schizoaffective disorder was beautifully and sensitively portrayed. We also liked the portrayal of a supportive family, and especially Caden's little sister, who never gave up on him. We thought the way the author ultimately brought Caden's two worlds together, with the help of therapy and an appropriate drug combination as he was hospitalized and began to heal was stellar. We had a detailed discussion about mental illness itself, and its effect on the friends and families of the affected person and the fact that -- at best -- no one really knows what's going on in the affected person's head. We liked the inclusion of the drawings, which were done by the author's son, Brendan, whose own story of affliction and healing was the basis of the book. We thought the book was a great vehicle to introduce this issue to YA readers (and adults!) and we appreciated the extensive list of resources for students, parents, and teachers at the end of the book.