Does anyone know the kind of book I'm aiming for?
December 17, 2006 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Are there any books you think a smart, grieving preteen would find comforting or of use? More details inside.

I'll try to get what the situation is with as few details as possible, unless further information is really needed.

I have a relative, who is 13 years old to my 22. We'll call him Bobby. Bobby is a smart, shy and sweet kid, who loves all sorts of standard 12-year-old-things (e.g. the red sox and the star wars prequel trilogy) and is very quietly perceptive of people around him. He's a great kid, and the oldest of three.

I was planning, for this holiday season (the end of chanukah, specifically, when I get back home from college) to give everyone a book as a gift this year - nothing too bank-breaking as I'm a starving student, but something I thought each person would genuinely enjoy and perhaps find thought-provoking, suited to their interests. Thinking of the books I might have wished someone handed me in the 10-13-year-old area, I was originally going to go with either
Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!, Culture Jam, or Good Omens.

In the past three weeks, his grandmother, whom he is close to (and who is way too young for this) has gotten very sick, very quickly, and is likely to pass this week. All of a sudden, my suggested books seem a little lacking somehow - each is either flippant or political, a little empty under the circumstances.

I don't want to give him a book which is blatantly like, "So you're a grieving preteen, eh?" or anything transparently about a grandparent's death, etc etc. Nothing pat and tacky and thoughtless. But maybe something which, though it's not on the surface "about death," can provide some measure of comfort to a person in this situation. I guess it's more a feeling than a theme I'm thinking about. I have come up with three that seem somewhat what I'm aiming for:

Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary,
Danny The Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl, and
The Little Prince, by Antoine St.-Exupery

I guess the best way to put it is a book which has both wonderfulness and melancholy, though the former ultimately triumphs; a book that as a smart pre-teen makes you both grin and cry but ultimately finish feeling like the world is an okay place. Does anyone have any thoughts on this matter, or even know what I'm trying to get at? This might just be a stupid idea, I'm in the middle of grieving myself.
posted by Ash3000 to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Being a melancholy person myself, my first inclination would be to validate his grief, possibly as follows:

Send a copy of Lois Lowry's The Giver, with a post it note saying something like this

We grieve because we loved.
We hurt because we cared.
And it was worth it.
posted by The Confessor at 12:20 PM on December 17, 2006

Madeleine L'engle's A Ring of Endless Light is a story about a just-teenaged girl who spends a summer on an island with her grandfather, who is dying of leukemia.

It's a good read, not depressing but not glib either. A smart 13-year-old would probably enjoy it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:24 PM on December 17, 2006

If you know Gaarder's Sophie's World, this is the equivalent on spirituality: Theo's Odissey by Catherine Clément.

"An advanced student who loves computer games and ancient mythology, 14-year-old Theo is diagnosed with a mysterious terminal illness. But instead of withering away in his bedroom or a hospital ward, Theo is sent off to travel the world with his eccentric and enlightened Aunt Martha. Rather than a generic tour of the world's greatest sights, Theo's aunt takes him on a pilgrimage to learn about the world's greatest religions--from Sufism to Islam to Taoism to the Southern Baptist denomination of Protestantism. Clement's rich storytelling guides Theo through an informative and deeply touching journey as he begins to understand others' relationships with God, as well as his own. Beneath the surface, this is a spiritual love story, one in which the love of family, a girlfriend, and God sustains and heals a dying boy."

It has been my present for anyone going on a rough patch.
posted by claudiadias at 12:49 PM on December 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
posted by matimer at 1:30 PM on December 17, 2006

Watership Down?
posted by loiseau at 1:35 PM on December 17, 2006

Kahlil Gibran - The Prophet is a pretty amazing collection of poetry that is dense, beautiful, and compact, with some keen insights on life and death.
Let not the waves of the sea separate us now, and the years you have spent in our midst become a memory.

You have walked among us a spirit, and your shadow has been a light upon our faces.

Much have we loved you. But speechless was our love, and with veils has it been veiled. Yet now it cries aloud unto you, and would stand revealed before you.

And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
For more information: read it online, peruse some quotes, or his biography.
posted by lhl at 3:11 PM on December 17, 2006

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is always welcome, I find. Though it in fact does deal with death, it does it in a very beautiful way, and the book has lots of other themes as well.

Another one to try might be Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. It also deals with death, but in an unconventional way, as it's about a 12 year old girl who meets a family that from drinking from a magic spring, is blessed/cursed with eternal life.
posted by katyggls at 4:45 PM on December 17, 2006

Elsewhere does not specifically address grieving, but does offer a conversation-starting story about the afterlife.
posted by mozhet at 5:29 PM on December 17, 2006

I second A Ring of Endless Light--that was the first thing I thought of. It is explicitly about a grandparent's approaching death, but also about adolescence and various sorts of love. Not tacky or self-help-y or anything like that. I read it about a year after my grandfather's death of Alzheimer's (I was 15ish) and it was exactly right. Both cathartic and comforting.

Another vote for Bridge to Terabithia, too.
posted by hippugeek at 6:19 PM on December 17, 2006

I second The Giver. Powerful book.

Also, my students about that age really liked Holes.
posted by jaronson at 8:20 PM on December 17, 2006

I third the Bridge to Terabithia. It's powerful yet comforting. I agree that, whatever your choice, a personal note of shared hope will be most appropriate.
posted by rosebengal at 9:01 PM on December 17, 2006

How about something like "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" or "Hairstyles of the Damned."

Both are written about kids about his age (a little older) going through big issues.

I should say, however, both books deal with some really heavy sexual stuff, drugs, etc. -- in fact "Wallflower" is banned in a lot of public libraries. That said, they are both, IMO, important books about growing up as a teenage boy in modern America.
posted by JPowers at 11:04 PM on December 17, 2006

Tuesdays with Morrie may be too close to the topic of death, but I think he will gain a lot out of it. I read it when I was 16, and it definitely made a good impact on me.
posted by spiderskull at 1:03 AM on December 18, 2006

Some of these recommendations sound like dancing around the issue a bit to me. Don't get me wrong - many are great: Watership Down for instance is an excellent book, however he might read it more as a fiction and have trouble translating it to real-life meaningfulness.

If you want a book that hits the issue without pulling any punches, try C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:22 AM on December 18, 2006

i second "the perks of being a wallflower", although it is definitely for a slightly older demographic- it's really quite great. give it a good thumb-through before you buy it, though, it may be too old for him. "watership down" is also great.

i also like stuff by madeleine l'engle ("ring of endless light" was suggested; i also like a wrinkle in time and the young unicorns. neither is specifically about death, but "wrinkle in time" has a good blend of fantasy and family, and a sense of overcoming large obstacles, that might apply. "young unicorns" is an adventure-crime novel whose heroine was blinded a few years before, and the characters deal with that, rather than a death- but the notion of it not being fair, and having to live around it anyway, applies. both have awesome strong, brave female protagonists and very compelling male supporting leads, and i don't think either of them is "too girly".
posted by twistofrhyme at 11:12 AM on December 18, 2006

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