You. Guys. This book! Just, okay. Before I place any value judgment on it, lemme ‘splain.
Jeff Greene comes home one day from second grade to find a note from his mom (Melody) saying she’s skipped out on him and his pops because she just wasn’t happy. Melody asks him to be brave and to not bother the Professor (the oh-so affectionate way Jeff and Melody refer to the father who is in fact a college teacher) and try to be as independent as possible. The hell, Melody? How is he supposed to mourn the loss of his mother if he can’t talk about it? He can’t. He internalizes all his pain and builds a relationship with his father based on muting his emotions, wants, and needs. And the father – being the academic Professor-type - assumes that his son just isn’t very emotional, like himself, and is handling the whole being abandoned thing just fine. Le sigh.
So it goes for years. Years, ya’ all. Jeff comes home, does his homework, make meals and goes to bed. Until one day Jeff wakes up sick and stays sick for days and then weeks. It’s not until the Professor and his friend (a monk who also teaches at the University) discover Jeff in an almost-coma that they take him to the hospital and discover he has pneumonia. That’s when the story really begins. The Professor is forced to contact Melody to get some much-needed medical information about Jeff. A few weeks later, when Jeff is almost completely well, he receives a letter from his Melody asking him to visit her in South Carolina for the summer.
At this point I’m reading this and thinking, “Yes! She cares! Jeff feels wanted and loved!” And it really feels like that. Jeff loves his mom and realizes that he shouldn’t shut himself out from the world. That he can open up to people. And it is beautiful. Like, make you want to hug someone and do the ugly cry, beautiful. I mean, this innocent kid is finally getting what he needs/deserves.
And then. Some sh!t goes down that makes him understand his mother better. And understand the relationship she had with the Professor better. And understand exactly what emotions led her to leave him. And all those feelings of love and being wanted disappear faster than Melody. And it is bad, guys. At one point it looks like Jeff should seriously be taking some medication because kid is depressed. And not in the clichéd way people use it these days (i.e. Uhhh, I did so bad on my test, I’m depressed). Like in the real, “What should I continue to live?” sense. And I know that sounds melodramatic when I write it but the way Voigt does, it makes you want to find all the Jeffs in the world and explain to them til you are blue in the face that they matter, that the problem doesn’t lie in them, and that they deserve so much better than they have. And while you explain all of this to them you are on your way to Disney World in a car full if ice cream, cookies, candy and double rainbows. And guys, Jeff is only twelve! Twelve-year-olds should NOT be dealing with stuff like this. Ever. But he is and they do.
I am sure this book tickled some inner fears of abandonment that I had growing up. At one point I had to stop reading it because it hurt so bad. Really. *serious face* Really. I know that this doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement to read this book, but it is. Everyone should read this book to learn how to not treat children and people in general. I know this sounds trite, but people have feelings, yo. Treat them with kindness. Especially strangers. You never know if they have a Melody in their life they’re still recovering from.
Five out of five coffees.