Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Whole Stupid Way We Are

The Whole Stupid Way We Are, a beautifully written, often poetic YA novel by author Nicole Griffin, leaves the reader with important questions.

Like many fifteen year-old teens, protagonist Dinah and her best friend Skint see and feel with great passion the gap between the way the world is and the way the world ought to be. Their idealism and intelligence is completely engaging.

There are problems in their small Maine town. For instance, they notice that a dad who sings in the church choir is a cruel parent to his small son. They also happen to discover that the stingy church lady who runs the food pantry has been selfish with the food for the needy. They also suspect their aging neighbors might not have enough heat to get through the winter.

But unlike well-meaning, earnest Dinah, Skint becomes disturbed by suffering he sees, impatient with the stupid adults who don't do their jobs.  He distances himself by intellectualizing. He thinks:

 . . . Rationally speaking, there is no point to all of this, the biological accident of human beings. No explanation, no help, no justification good enough; no real reason for any single one of us to be around.

In other words what's the use?

Skint has become a cynic compared to Dinah for a reason. He has family troubles too vast for a kid to face.  His dad, once kind and loving, is in the last stages of Alzheimer's disease and no longer knows him.  Even worse is that his mother has crossed her breaking point, has become abusive to both himself and his helpless father. Unable to deal with it, Skint runs away.

The most important questions in this book aren't why we exist, why is everyone so stupid, and what's the point of it all.  The question more useful to ask is this:  Given the problems inherent in human life, how do kids and their communities face aging, illness, and loss?  How do we cope with powerful emotions without running away?

I loved how the author ends the book by leaving what happens to Skint as a question for the reader to imagine.

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