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A Certain October

Review

A Certain October

Award-winning novelist Angela Johnson offers a poignant portrait of grief and recovery in A CERTAIN OCTOBER.

High school junior Scotty is perfectly happy to be the least interesting one in her trio of friends. Misha is an outgoing, outspoken feminist who also happens to be incredibly attractive to boys --- she's even a finalist for homecoming queen! Falcone is elegant, stylish, and also specializes in breaking boys' hearts. Scotty can't compete with them for attention or eccentricity, so why even try? Scotty's relationship with her friends is loving yet realistic, gritty, and true: "Friendship can be a bitch," Scotty reflects on her friends' dramas. "Sometimes she rips your best shirt and spills barbecue sauce all over your shoes, then runs all the gas out of your car before stealing your best CD and losing your dog."

"Johnson's novel is slim: a brisk read that's also surprisingly funny even though it takes on big topics...As a narrative of a journey of grief through generosity, however, Johnson's story is both beautiful and moving."

About the most distinctive thing about Scotty is her little brother Keone, whose autism may dampen his ability to communicate but doesn't dampen Scotty's affection for him one bit. Scotty's off to a good start on the school year, even if she does have a huge report on ANNA KARENINA looming over her, and even if her friends' dramas often threaten to overtake her own life. She cares about her friends and her family; the last thing she wants is to be the center of attention.

But that's exactly what does happen when, in the course of a moment, Scotty's life changes entirely, and changes in a way that causes her to start seeing the world differently, slightly off-kilter for a while. Scotty and Keone are passengers on a train during a horrific accident that leaves Keone in a coma and Scotty's classmate Kris, with whom she's just started to reconnect, dead.

Like grief and horror itself, the true depths of Scotty's losses unfold slowly, as Angela Johnson simultaneously reveals the events that led up to the accident and the numbness and confusion that follows. Scotty is unsure what is real and what is not; she finds it impossible to proceed with even the simplest tasks that used to be the focus of her ordinary life: "If it had been a perfect fall it would have been about homecoming --- whining about homecoming, trying to make money for homecoming…But now I just keep reading Anna Karenina and taking long walks, limping through the neighborhood and watching the neighbors' lives." As Scotty interests herself in others' lives, she becomes ever more distant from her own, until she's not sure how to jog herself awake from this waking dream she's in. She has good friends, though, and a powerful family. And her own ability to be a wonderful friend and a caring sister certainly didn't die that day.

Johnson's novel is slim: a brisk read that's also surprisingly funny even though it takes on big topics. The novel certainly doesn't resolve all of the issues it brings up, particularly subplots related to Falcone's family and to Scotty's relationship with her stepmother and younger brother. As a narrative of a journey of grief through generosity, however, Johnson's story is both beautiful and moving.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 8, 2012

A Certain October
by Angela Johnson

  • Publication Date: September 3, 2013
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0689870655
  • ISBN-13: 9780689870651