Writing about my best reading experience for the The Canary Review turned out to be tougher than I imagined (writing about my worst was much, much easier, but we’ll get to that in a moment). After giving it some thought, I decided to write about the one story that changed both reading and writing for me.
That story is Break by Hannah Moskowitz.
“BREAK is a story about Jonah, a teen on a mission to break every bone in his body. Everyone knows that broken bones grow back stronger than they were before. Jonah wants to be stronger–needs to be stronger–because everything around him is falling apart. Breaking, and then healing, is the only way he can cope with the stresses of home, girls and the world on his shoulders.”
What I love most about Break is its honest portrayal of a self-destructive teen. Jonah lives with one brother who has deadly food allergies, a baby brother who is consistently covered in deadly food, and well-meaning parents who don’t seem to notice. In less capable hands, this story might have become maudlin, but not once did the author let the stress of Jonah living with a chronically ill brother or distracted parents overshadow his emotional journey. Hannah Moskowitz lets the reader relate to Jonah’s choice to injure himself as a coping mechanism without ever having to play the pity card.
This book renewed my love of young adult novels. It reminded me how much I enjoyed reading from the perspective of a teenage boy, something I hadn’t experienced since I read The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton as a kid. Break set a new standard for me in my own writing and I’ve been a fan of Hannah Moskowitz ever since.
Oh, if every reading experience could be this good. But sadly, it can’t. Because right now, as you’re reading this, someone somewhere is listening to Holden Caulfield whine.
Wait! Wait! Put down the torches and pitchforks! Please, let me explain.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I am not suggesting that The Catcher in the Rye isn’t a stunning piece of literature–it is. I wouldn’t have had such a visceral reaction to it if it weren’t. But J.D. Salinger’s portrayal of insufferable teen angst just plain got my chowder up.
As a native New Englander who grew up less than an hour from where J.D. Salinger spent the last fifty years of his life, I can tell you that Holden Caulfield wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in any New England public high school anywhere. Even Connecticut. This kid is so emotionally pathetic he makes Edward Cullen look like Bill Sikes. There wasn’t a moment during my read that I didn’t want to reach through the pages to give this punk a chowda-fisted beat down and then stuff him under the stands at Fenway. And I’m a girl.
For those of you who are lucky enough not to know, The Catcher in the Rye is the story of the sixteen year-old Holden Caulfield, a chronically disgruntled prep school drop-out. When he’s not whining about how he thinks everyone around him is a poser, he’s moping about the fact that he’s still a virgin. Lacking the testicular fortitude to confront his parents with the truth of his sudden expulsion from yet another prep school, Holden checks into a run-down hotel and waits for a vacation to explain his trip home. While he’s there, Holden annoys nuns, is obnoxious to girls (and for some reason cab drivers), and is convinced that every man who looks at him sideways is a homosexual.
I will say that there was one redeeming moment in the novel. When Holden backs out of a deal with a prostitute he hires, Sunny has her pimp beat Holden up–even after he pays them. I remember standing up in class and clapping for that one.
Fans of the novel will say that Holden Caulfield is technically from New York and that J.D. Salinger wrote this novel before he moved to New Hampshire but it doesn’t matter. When a kid is forced to live in a state where its citizens wear Salinger like a badge, you grow to resent being identified with the myopic twit that is Holden Caulfield.
In an effort to rid myself of my impotent “post-Rye” anger, I’ve decided to combine my best read and worst read into an uber fan-fiction graphic novel. In my mind I see pages and pages of my good buddy Jonah repeatedly laying the smack down on Holden for thinking he’s “wicked smaht.” Then Jonah stuffs him under the stands at Fenway.