I buried my head in my hands. “You still don’t get it. I won’t pass this test no matter what you do. It would be like . . . like telling you that you couldn’t graduate unless you walk across the stage to get your diploma. It’s not tricky. It’s not hard. It’s not a little problem for you to solve. It . . . is . . . impossible!”
“I could walk across the stage if I wanted to. I just don’t want to.”
“Tad, that’s not the point. This isn’t about you. The point is . . . ” [...]
“No, Jeff. I can walk across the stage at graduation. All right? That’s the deal. We’re a team. I tutor you, and you work out with me. You pass, I walk.
“As cancer.” (48-49)
Eighth grader Jeffrey Alper has always been one of two kids with cancer, with the second one being his best friend Tad who joined the class a few years later. A new state test that eighth graders are required to pass puts Jeffrey’s graduation from grade school in jeopardy as no special considerations will be allowed for his learning disabilities. Tad and Jeffrey make a deal; Tad will tutor Jeffrey in math while Jeffrey coaches Tad so he can walk across the stage at graduation. But Tad is being secretive about some other plans of his, and when Jeffrey finds out the girl he likes is in on the secret, he wonders who she likes more. With his brother Steven out of the country, who is Jeffrey supposed to turn to to make sense of this confusing year?
Full Disclosure: I fell in love with Jordan Sonnenblick’s writing after meeting him at my very first conference I ever went to in Oct. 2008. It turned out that the book I had purchased the previous day was his book Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, and they were short a shipment, so they didn’t have enough books to go around. To pile on the coincedence, I ended up sitting at his table for the lunch just before he spoke about his inspiration for writing. So it seemed like fate that I loved his book (the first book I’ve ever gotten signed), and gobbled up the rest of them.
After Ever After begins some eight years after Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie left off, this time starring the kindergartner with cancer that we grew to love in the first book. Told from Jeffrey’s perspecitve, I feel like Sonnenblick really captured his distracted nature and insecurities about being the cancer kid who lived. The ending is gripping and wonderfully evocative and emotional. You can’t help but fall in love with these characters! Jeffrey’s parents are super suportive of both their sons, trying really hard to treat them both equally since they seem to understand that they have both been placed in equally awkward situations. I wish Steven was more present in the novel, but the flashbacks showcased the kid we loved in the first book, and you really got to remember and understand how complex the characters Steven and Jeffrey both are in these books. The Halloween scene is hillarious! (I won’t spoil it for anyone, but Jeffrey and his girlfriend have very different ideas what Disney means.) It’s not completely necessary to read them in order, but I think you might understand the little references more, like the story behind Jeffrey’s instant messenger screen name.