Book Focus - September 2005
Girls & Dangerous Pie
As a reader, I’ve always been a sucker for great titles. The Phantom Tollbooth, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, The Catcher and the Rye, Black Beauty, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ramona Quimby Age 8, Harriet the Spy. I love the poetry of titles. I love how they can so powerfully evoke a feeling or emotion with the ease of a simple phrase or a couple of words. I love the fact that titles are a difficult thing to get just right (and the feeling that comes with it when a story has, you are certain, the most perfect, unbelievable title). Most of all, I love perusing a bookshelf and running my fingers across all of the spines, the titles beckoning, enticing, and promising that fluttery feeling you get after finishing a well-loved book.
As much as I love titles I must admit: I’m also extremely wary of them. I often think that the old, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” applies equally to titles. What if I pass up a fantastic book just because the title is less than appealing? On the other hand, what if the story isn’t nearly as good as the title suggests? Disappointment is a real fear for a book hound such as myself.
All fear aside, you can only imagine my delight when I received a call in May of 2004 from an extremely polite and well-spoken writer named Jordan Sonnenblick who had a new book he had recently written. “What is the title?” I asked. “Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie,” he told me. Would I mind taking a look, he asked nervously. If Jordan had been able to see me that day I’m certain he would have headed for the hills, for while I told him very calmly [heart beating quickly] that I’d love to see his new book [lump in throat] and he could sent it directly [white knuckles gripping desk] to my attention [breaking out in a sweat] I could hardly maintain my composure.
Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie. The title was spectacular and the story sounded even better. Jordan’s small press publisher of first time fiction, DayBue Publishing (get it?), had gone out of business just as Jordan’s book was published, leaving Jordan and his first (exquisitely titled) novel stranded and in desperate need of a new publisher. Jordan called me because Lisa Feder-Feitel of Scholastic’s Scope Magazine kindly passed along my name to the new and eager writer. Little did Jordan know that I was loco for a good title. So Jordan put his novel in the mail to me and then a series of unusual things happened. First, after his book arrived, instead of adding it to my teetering submissions piles I slipped it into my messenger bag (I must tell you, it was a Friday). Then, instead of adding it to my teetering at-home-and-desperately-waiting submissions piles, I started it that same evening. Then I finished it by noon of the next day. Then, I could hardly believe my good fortune. And finally, and perhaps more surprisingly, I forgot all about the title.
Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie is a story that promises and never disappoints, delivers and never falters. It’s the story of 13-year-old Steven Alper whose family is turned upside down when Steven’s five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, is diagnosed with leukemia. Steven, while not telling anyone about his brother’s diagnosis, has to deal with school, maneuver crushes and relationships, keep up with his drumming and band activities while his mom quits her job to take Jeffrey to and from treatment in another city and his dad clams up, unable to communicate about what is happening to his family and his youngest son. It’s a heavy story. Not something you think you’d want to pick up for enjoyable reading. And yet Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie is one of the most enjoyable and memorable books I’ve read in a long time.
The beauty of the story is in Jordan’s voice and his ability to step into the mind of Steven who is funny and likable and a perfectly emotional adolescent boy who feels that while everything is going his way, nothing is going his way, and while everything is normal, absolutely nothing is normal.
“Having a brother is horrible. Having any brother would be horrible, I suppose, but having my particular brother, Jeffrey, is an unrelenting nightmare. It’s not because he’s eight years younger than I am, although that’s part of it. How would you like to be King of the Planet for eight glorious years, and then suddenly get demoted to Vice-King? It’s not because he’s cuter than I am, although that’s part of, too. I have mouse-brown cowlicky hair, glasses that are about an inch thick, and braces that look like I tried to swallow a train wreck. He has those perfect little-kid Chiclet-white teeth, 20-20 vision, and little blond ringlets like the ones on those angels you see on the posters in art class. It’s not even because he hates me—he doesn’t. The truth is he idolizes me. And that’s the problem: the kid follows me around like I’m Elvis or something. And while he’s being much too cute and following me around, he also destroys all of my stuff, including my self-esteem and my sanity . . .”
In addition to being the kind of story that makes you laugh and cry at the same exact time, stays with you forever, and makes you want to press it into the hands of every person you know, Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie is a much-needed story. Often when a sibling falls the victim to cancer, the attention in a family and community is focused on the sick child, while the well sibling loses support systems he needs but doesn’t always know how to ask for. Jordan never loses sight of Jeffrey and his sickness but he also shows us why understanding Steven is so important. It’s one of those books an editor can only dream of and a reader can only imagine.
I hope you will love Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie just as much as I do.
Oh, and if you are wondering, “What in the world is dangerous pie?” I can promise you that the story is so good you’ll temporarily forget to wonder what the heck it is, only to make sense of it all when you least expect it. An unbelievable story and a perfect title.