by Jessie Ann Foley
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
16-year-old James “Pup” Flanagan is the youngest of 8 in a close-knit, Catholic, Chicago family. His oldest sisters are referred to as “the sister-moms” and his oldest nephew is also a junior at the same high school (though the two don’t get along at all and Pup’s nephew teases him for being a poor student). Pup is closest with his sister Annemarie, and the whole family is still reeling from (but not dealing with or discussing) the death of his next-oldest brother, Patrick, from meningitis three years before. His brother Luke has failed out of law school and become a full-fledged alcoholic and drinking himself nearly to death, leading to a scene of domestic violence and an even more harrowing scene where Pup goes and drags him out of a dingy basement and gets him to the hospital. With Pup’s help, the family starts to heal together.
On the cheerier side, what gets Pup through the end of his junior year is photography, a Hail Mary (if you will) to save his failing art grade, which he turns out to be a natural at. He also happens to spend a lot of time with Abrihet, a classmate he vaguely knew but never interacted much with. Pup finally lets go of his longtime best friend and crush, Izzy, whose skeezy boyfriend pushes Pup’s crush into the open. As Pup gets closer to Abrihet, he realizes that what he has with Izzy is superficial and, worse, one-sided, and what he has with Abrihet is real and powerful. Even when Izzy finally gets wise and dumps Brody’s cheating butt, and comes to Pup for solace, he finds he doesn’t even want what he thought they had. Through it all, the metaphors of photography and what he is able to learn about himself through compiling a portfolio at his art teacher’s urging is quite moving and lovely.
A librarian friend recommended this one to me, selling it by saying that it’s the best first kiss ever and the last several pages blew her away, and I have to agree. (Well, to be fully honest, I was a little distracted when reading the kiss but upon rereading, it was delightful.)
For fans of: I’ll Give You the Sun (or maybe the other way around – if they read this, they’ll like Sun)