Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie
DRUMS, GIRLS & DANGEROUS PIE starts out breezily enough. Told in the sarcasm-laced voice of 13-year-old Steven, the novel describes his various adolescent trials and tribulations, all of which are familiar yet still cringe-worthy --- he has a crush on the hottest girl in school, has an angelic-looking yet demonic little brother named Jeffrey, and his parents irk and annoy him constantly. With a droll and ironic tone, teacher and first-time novelist Jordan Sonnenblick paints Steven both convincingly and with enough color to make him an amusing and compelling narrator. Readers will be ready and willing to let Steven narrate the woes of adolescence for 273 pages, without expecting anything more or less from the novel.
Steven's story takes a sharp turn, however, into potentially over-dramatic emotional ground when Jeffrey's nosebleeds turn out to be an indicator of something serious. Yet Sonnenblick handles Steven and his family's reactions to Jeffrey's diagnosis and the onslaught of his illness with an admirable balance of humor and compassion. Jeffrey's initial question to his mother after they return from the hospital in Philadelphia is, "So Mom, everything's OK right? This whole cancer mistake is sorted out?" And Sonnenblick's treatment of the different reactions of Jeffrey's parents --- Steven describes his mother as "weepy" and his father as "a zombie" --- is both nuanced and realistic. Steven has to break his parents' emotional states into simple, one-word summations, because he fears grappling with the extent of what they're going through and why; by acknowledging the complexity of their anguish, he must acknowledge the fact that his brother might die.
It takes a while for Steven to come to terms with Jeffrey's illness, and the process is rendered thoughtfully and without cliché. Reflections such as "Once I was forced to believe that Jeffrey really had cancer my mind played another big trick on me. I started to think that if I just made the right promises to God. He would magically make Jeffrey better again" and Steven's frustration with teachers who call him a "trooper" are perfect examples of the little details that make this novel so honest and real. Steven's attempt to get a handle on all the anxieties that surround the progression of his brother's illness, while trying to balance school dances, drumming solos and head-over-heels-crushes, is handled with equal candor.
Steven is not the only remarkably credible character; his parents, his teachers, his brother and even his crush, Renee, are all well-drawn and believable. The fact that this novel never relies on formulaic plotlines or stock characters is no doubt due to the author's own experience with having a family member diagnosed with cancer. Sonnenblick has an obvious desire to present the potentially melodramatic and sappy subject of cancer with frankness, never shying away from conveying the uncomfortable realities of living with someone who is sick. The result is this honest, engaging, never syrupy, and rather groundbreaking novel.
Readers who have never gone through what Steven is going through will have a newfound understanding of what it is like to --- very literally --- battle someone else's cancer. Those who have will be grateful to Sonnenblick for getting it so right.
Reviewed by Jennifer Krieger on October 18, 2011
Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie
- Publication Date: December 31, 1969
- Genres: Fiction
- : pages