Author: Arnold Adoff
Illustrator: William Cotton
Publisher: Lothrop Lee & Shepard (1995)
Audience: 12 – 18 males and females. This book would be best used in a youth group setting for small group discussion.
Summary: Adoff has successfully mastered the young adult voice when it comes to insecurities, hopes, daydreaming and young love. It is a look at the “quotidian mysteries” of junior high/high school life and how young adults see themselves and those around them. There is no cohesive story, but rather a collection of poems that captures this time of life with humor and lingering innocence mixed with keen observation of the realities of the teen world today.
Literary elements at work in the story: These free verse poems utilize a lot of visual impact with the layout of each poem. While the poems do not create images, their arrangement on the page helps readers with the cadence and impact of the words. There are no chapters, per se; however, the photographic work is used to suggest new categories of poems (i.e., appearance, sports, world, love, etc.) One of the most interesting aspects of Adoff’s work in this book is that he has captured an androgynous tone on many poems, so that one could imagine either a young man or a young woman writing it (it would be a fun exercise to make the students try and guess).
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/abilities: Many of the poems are from an obviously male perspective, however, as mentioned earlier, there are many that are “androgynous” and could easily be adopted by young female readers as their own voice. The poems comment on most aspects of youth culture: music, drugs, attraction, appearance, athletics, etc. without giving too much away. There are no characters, so each poem stands on its own, and the reader is invited to fill in the background of the person in the poem. In this way, the perspective is somewhat fluid.
Scripture: In general, I do not think this book of poems lends itself to a particular scripture passage, but is a useful entrée into several possible discussion topics such as drug use, relationships, body image, and peer pressure (for example). In order to capture this broad range, I believe that “identity” could serve as an over-arching theme and could be tied to discussions of “who we are in Christ” and “who we want the world to see.”
Theology: Taking up the theme of “identity” opens up several possible avenues for theological discussion. For many young adults who regularly participate in Sunday school and/or Youth Group, they have an identity in Christ that may be unknown, or at least un-verbalized, by them. Using these poems as a springboard, the discussions may move from “who they want the world to see” to “how they see themselves” to “how they are seen by God” to “who they are in Christ.” By helping young adults name their faith and to see how their faith is interwoven into the fabric of their daily lives they may be able to realize some synthesis of “school identity” and “faith identity.” These discussions need to acknowledge and honor this time in their life and allow them to discover that while their outward identity may change over time (and may change many times!), their identity in Christ is a constant and reliable and solid part of themselves. While their faith journey may take them in any number of directions during their lifetime, they will always remain a child of God. Possible scriptural themes are the Pauline epistles regarding our identity in Christ, passages addressing God’s faithfulness and the call of the disciples (who went through several identity crises of their own!).
Faith Talk Questions:
- What makes us who we are? Do we shape our world, or does our world shape us?
- If I asked you who is “in charge of” your life? how would you answer?
- Would your friends (outside of church) include the identity “Christian” if they were describing you to someone? Why (not)?
- Do you think you act differently when you hang around with different people or groups of friends? Is it an “act” or are you really all these different people?
- Is God “different” with different people? Why (not)? In what way(s)?
- How do you think God would describe you?
Review prepared by Nadine Ellsworth-Moran, MDiv/MACE, Entering Cohort Fall 2004
 Borrowed from Kathleen Norris’ book title.