Saving Red (and Us)

Last night I finished a book that I would have reviewed regardless of the presidential inauguration.

But.

The story sounds even more relevant today.

Saving Red is a young adult novel written in verse by Sonya Sones, the awarded author of five other novels, also in verse. Sonya Sones is particularly proud to be on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Frequently Challenged Authors of the 21st century.

I’ve rarely read a 440 page-long book as fast as I swallowed Saving Red.

That’s one of the perks of reading a novel in verse and why they are popular among reluctant readers. But don’t be fooled. Writing short sentences with such a smooth poetic beat is not an easy task.

Besides it is not the form of the novel that stirred me. Although when I was finished, I realized that no other form would have carried the story from beginning to end with equal seamless perfection.

The reason I fell for the novel is the theme or I should say the themes.

Set in Santa Monica, California, a place known for its stunning location along the Pacific Ocean and for being home to some to the most expensive real estate in the US, the novel takes us on a less sunny walk across town.

If you’ve ever been to Santa Monica you’ve seen homeless men and women of all ages, particularly on the stretch along the ocean, right across gorgeous hotels and merely a block away from “regular” people.

This is an audacious choice of setting from a writer. We’d rather think of homeless people living away from beauty. It is not unique to Santa Monica, by the way. San Francisco has also an important homeless population who lives close to Union Square, also home to expensive hotels and retail.

I don’t know for you, but I’m never at ease when I pass a homeless person. Regardless of the reason that has pushed this human being to live on the street, I cannot ignore the harsh fact that at night this person will still be on the street, while I’ll be eating and sleeping in my home. It makes me uncomfortable, upset, sad, and ashamed. Especially when this man or woman is obviously mentally unstable. And we all know that many homeless people struggle with mental health issues.

Saving Red brings together two girls who have no reason to meet.

Molly is almost fifteen years old and must log four more hours of community service for her school semester. And she has one night to do that. I remember my own kids going through this task that resembled mission impossible.

So this is to reach this crucial deadline that Molly is out one night with 250 other volunteers, a clipboard, a tally sheet and a pen in hand, to help the city of Santa Monica take its annual homeless count.

During this cold December night, spent on the streets, in the parks, and along the Pacific Ocean, Molly and her loyal and adorable service dog Pixel will catch a first sight of Red, a redhead mentally ill homeless girl barely older than Molly.

Molly is immediately and irreversibly changed by this brief encounter that stirs many more feelings that she wishes for.

Because of course Molly is not only a teen girl who has to beat a school deadline. Between the walls of her house lingers the inexplicable sad absence of her beloved five years older brother and soldier Noah who vanished almost a year ago on New Year’s Eve, shortly after his return from Afghanistan.

Since he left, Molly’s house has ceased to be a home. Her mother smokes pot all day long while watching the Home Shopping Network and buying anything and everything. Her lawyer father spends as much time as possible at the office.

Inside her bone-depressing house, on the first night of Hanukkah, Molly decides to get Red home by Christmas Eve. She has ten days to make this happen.

Along this fast-paced mission Molly will save more than Red.

photo-38

Now you’ll ask me: Why is this book particularly relevant today?

Raise your hand if you don’t have a pre-existing condition(s)?

Raise your hand if you don’t live with someone with pre-existing condition(s)?

Raise your hand if you don’t know someone with pre-existing condition(s)?

Exactly.

As the threat to repeal the ACA gets chillingly more real today, the long list of pre-existing conditions that would cut so many of us from getting reasonably priced health care coverage and ultimately shut us from coverage at all fills my head and heart to the brim.

Saving Red tackles one of the least comfortable health issue of our modern world and several other serious matters. By doing that the book reaches to the bottom of our conscience and pushes us to confront what we’d rather not see.

Rest assured, Sonya Sones, Saving Red just secured your name on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Frequently Challenged Authors of the upcoming years.

 

P.S. A few more things I love in the novel:

  • The title of each brief chapter reads as part of the chapter.
  • Pixel acts as a real character and young readers who have a pet know that a dog or a cat can be a true friend in good and no-so good moments.
  • The humor despite the seriousness of the topic (s).
  • The approchable and yet thoughtfully chosen language.
  • The too adorable Cristo, the boy who falls for Molly and vice versa.
  • The lovely way the author describes first love. Young teens will understand that these strong weird new feelings are perfectly normal. The emotions will echo older readers’ own experience. And much older readers (like myself) will feel their legs give way and their hearts trip at the evocation of these unforgettable sensations when we fall in love for the first time.

 

 

 

20170109_085143This is a photo of the lake in front of our little summer Maine place, courtesy of a neighbor, one of the few year-round residents.

 

Comments

  1. Behind the Story says:

    Have you ever read The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth? It’s an amazing novel set in San Francisco and written in rhyming verse. I couldn’t believe it was possible, and yet, he did it. It was excellent.

    Speaking of homeless people with mental illness, I heard recently about at least two mentally ill homeless people dying from hypothermia in Portland, Oregon’s recent unseasonably cold weather. The parents of one of them had been searching for him or her. I can’t imagine how they must feel.

    • No, I haven’t read that book, Nicki. Now that you’ve mentioned it I will look for it. The homeless people with mental issues break my heart. We would assume that wealthy cities would handle the situation with more dilegence and compassion. Like you, I have no idea how you can accept the death of your child under such circumstances.
      Thank you for the book recommendation and your visit, Nicki.

  2. Our lack of real attention to mental illness has risen to a level that I consider criminal. These are people, and they deserve so much more help than they ever receive. Even when politicians who seem to care talk about health care for all Americans, I think they exclude those living on the street. I like the way you chose to review this, Evelyne.

    • Criminal is also the word that comes to my mind. Our societies tolerate the unacceptable. We are all to blame and I always feel useless. You are also right: mental health is taken more seriously for “regular” citizens. You fall from the train and you’re on your own. It’s especially enraging when it happens in wealthy cities, merely blocks away from posh restaurants and hotels. Thank you again, for another visit and voicing your concern, Dan. If you know a young teen who loves meaningful stories, this novel I reviewed is excellent.

  3. I’m kinda blown away by the review, and now think I will order the book. Thank you for the sincere attention you’ve given it.

  4. This sounds like a very powerful book Evelyne.

    • It’s a great novel. The theme is serious and the author is at the top of her craft. I’m not a huge fan of novels in verse, but this one changed my mind. See you on your blog, Andrea.

  5. This sounds fascinating and topical, Evelyne. I am going to recommend it to our 18-year-old granddaughter who is in first-year university. Thanks for the in-depth review!

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