April 02, 2006

Compartments

In 1996, the Delacorte Prize for debuting YA and children's fiction was given to A.M. Jenkins, the Texas writer who has now become well known for her finely drawn portraits of the emotions and inner lives of guys. Breaking Boxes is an astute novel about sophomore Charlie Calmont who, on the surface, is pretty easy-going. He listens to country (loudly), he gets good grades and jogs a lot. He's kind of a loner, and he survives so tightly reined that he doesn't really realize how he's put himself into a box. He survives school -- he beats people up when they get too annoying, he goes out with girls and really does fine until they expect a piece of his heart. He lives with his brother Trent; his mother drank herself to death, but he's fine with that, it's fine, fine. Life is fine. Everything is fine. There are just some things he doesn't think about, right? You can't function if you keep all that crap on your mind. It just doesn't pay to care -- that kind of stuff will get you into trouble. So Charlie's coping mechanism is all about mental compartments and categories. He doesn't give them much thought -- they just work for him. He turns up the country music and just gets by.

In most things, Charlie seems balanced. He knows drinking and partying is stupid -- he drinks a little but doesn't care if people see him not drinking. He doesn't seem to care about what people think, about what people say -- he's cool. He makes excellent grades, keeps the house decent - who cares that he and his brother live alone? There's no call to live like an animal. Of course, he only has a little room in his life for friends. Any girl who wants more than his body is out of luck.

Like a weed poking through cement is Charlie's friendship with rich kid Brandon Chase. Brandon was an enemy, but what they fought about doesn't matter enough to remember. Brandon has a Corvette, Brandon has a huge house and he's head of all kinds of committees. On the outside, Brandon has it all, though Charlie learns he doesn't. But when Brandon learns a little more about Charlie life, he's not sure their friendship can survive it. Charlie doesn't want to care about it -- it's just one more friend, right? But then he does... and all the boxes collapse.

Enjoyable and believable, this is a compelling story about the strength it takes to care.

1 comment:

a. fortis said...

A good one! The male perspective felt right (crucial to a guy book) and I found myself really caring about all the main characters. Jenkins has guy interactions down pat, it seems.