This quiet little book may be one of the best I've ever read. Certainly, it's one that's stuck with me. Jeff Greene is just seven when his mother Melody leaves him and his professor father to save the world. Jeff spends the next five years trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, afraid that his introverted, work-focused father will abandon him, too, if he makes a fuss about anything. When Melody invites him to spend a summer with her at her family's home in Charleston, Jeff falls in love with his capricious and charming mother all over again. But Melody isn't really interested in her son, and her second abandonment rips him up. Heartbroken and betrayed, Jeff falls apart completely — he can't keep track of the days, so he skips school and ends up failing eighth grade. But to Jeff's surprise, his father is there to help him pick up the pieces, and together, they build a life together in a new town and a new school. Jeff makes friends for the first time in his life (including Dicey Tillerman from Voigt's Homecoming) and slowly realizes that the possibility of happiness has always been inside him. By the time he meets Melody again, he understands her enough to love her without losing himself and to let her go again without regret.
What makes this book so resonant is its simple, vivid descriptions of Jeff’s emotional life. His isolation is so absolute that he lives most of his life inside his head, and Voigt brings both his depression and his hard-won happiness to life without melodrama or romance. The book's inhabitants are complicated people: do-gooder Melody wants to make a difference in the world but completely ignores her own son; the Professor and Jeff assume so many things about each other that it takes a crisis for them to realize how much they really like each other; Melody's grandmother is so caught up in her family's patriarchal traditions that she leaves her wealth to Jeff rather than Melody, whom she adores. Ultimately, it's the deliberate, nuanced development of Jeff as an individual that makes this book sing—and creates a boy who I'd argue is one of the most memorable characters in young adult fiction.
We’re reprinting some of Amy’s summer reading series favorites from Atlanta Homeschool magazine on the home/school/life blog.
AMY SHARONY is the founder and editor-in-chief of home | school | life magazine. She's a pretty nice person until someone starts pluralizing things with apostrophes, but then all bets are off.