Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson
Laurel Leaf, 2005 (2003)
Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke
e could smell the alcohol. It was all happening so quickly he didn't react right away to fear, and he screamed but that stayed inside him. His mouth was taped, ankles and wrists tied behind him, as his attackers laughed. He was brutally violated by two strangers, who stopped to ask for directions. It happened one night after a school concert when sixteen-year old Grady West decided to take the desolate, dark route home. Mentally reviewing the concert music and beautiful Tracy's resonating voice, he walked with no thoughts of '
ince the '
', Grady retreats, unable to eat or communicate, and in a state of depression and despair. He cuts off contact with school friends, as he just can't take company or questions. The assault was written up in the local papers, but the victim was not named, so many do not know. Eight months later, Grady's enrolled in a new school. He enters Thomas Jefferson High as a total stranger, the way he wants it to be - '
the early September air enveloped him in leftover summer heat. For one moment, he felt as if he'd made it all the way to school without trouble ... without feeling the back of his throat start to constrict ... feeling his breakfast start its acid crawl toward his mouth.
' He is very careful that no one brushes against him, as he puts one foot in front of the other, mentally assigning each step a name -
hough supposed to be a senior, Grady has lost ground and enters junior year. He meets outgoing African-American Jess Williams. Jess sensitively, jokingly, teases Grady, addressing him as '
O Son of Silence
'. Another time, Jess suggests Grady eat before he's mistaken for a rubber band. Grady begins to respond with one word such as
, and a sort-of smile in the corner of his mouth. A joint art project is assigned - a self-portrait, with a unique twist, so that students are to make one painting representative of their group. Pearl, overweight and shy, is assigned to Grady and Jess's art-assignment conclave. A disturbing element is classmate Gwendolyn, a persistent and insensitive redhead who's determined on her latest project, having new students submit an article about themselves to the school journal.
athleen Jeffrie Johnson perceptively captures Grady West's despair, shame, hatred, and thoughts of revenge, the scene playing over and over, as Grady repeats his mantra '
Why me? Why me?
' Though I wondered about the minimal involvement of parents and community agencies in Grady's story,
meticulously portrays his long-term healing, and how he finds a spark of light here and there, through trust and caring friends.
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