When Stick realizes Bosten is gay, he knows that to survive his father's anger, Bosten must leave home. Stick has to find his brother, or he will never feel whole again. In his search, he will encounter good people, bad people, and people who are simply indifferent to kids from the wrong side of the tracks. But he never loses hope of finding love – and his brother.
OPINION: 5 STARS
The Short Version:
Emotional, aching and gritty, Stick is compelling and powerful. With stellar characterization, both for the protagonist and those around him, and an intricately scripted plot, this novel will suck readers in and not let go. Unflinching in its honesty, and arresting in its development, Stick is an astounding and must read novel.
The Extended Version:
Stick is an astoundingly well done character, naturally awkward and unsure, but also beat down, both figuratively and literally, from all that’s been thrown at him. Lacking confidence, and easily embarrassed, Stick is an endearing and charming character. He has an interesting view on the world, one bred from years of abuse and rigid rules, and the way he sees himself is heartbreaking, positive he is ugly because of his missing ear. Perceptive and loyal to those who are close to him, though, Stick has a tremendous internal strength that grows and shines as the book progresses. Stunned but not bothered by his brother’s secrets, and able to take things as they come, even when he’s terrified, Stick’s characterization is genuine and realistic.
Bosten’s characterization rivals Stick, with the reader getting a fantastic look at him despite being stuck in Stick’s head. Though he certainly makes mistakes, and might even disappoint some readers, there is a gutting truth to his character and decisions, and the relationship between the two brothers is a beautiful element of the book. Funny and the kind of guy you’d want to be friends with, but hurt and broken as well, Bosten has his own part of the story that will resonate and stay with readers.
The remaining cast is fantastically scripted and developed, from the infuriating parents to Emily, Stick’s only friend and the girl who sees him more clearly than anyone else. Each with an impact of their own on Stick, and a beautiful compassionate component to many of them, Smith doesn’t slack in any way on his characters, no matter how big or small their role. Emily, especially, is an amazing character, unafraid of things and determined to help Stick in the best ways she can, no matter what that means.
This one has a stellar plot, with numerous of twists and turns. Picked apart, some of the events could be seen as unbelievable and over the top, but set into the overall storyline, they are believable, real, and engaging. Holding plenty of darker elements, and unafraid to push the limits even if it makes readers uncomfortable, Stick is both aching and hopeful. With a heavy focus on how Stick handles everything, but pulling back enough to give a bigger world view, the internal and external components of this book are perfectly woven.
One of the most notable elements of this book is how unafraid Smith is to “go there.” With a thirteen/fourteen year old male protagonist, Smith incorporates all the natural and hormonal elements that come with the age, but never in a way that is crass or overly brash. Toeing the line and dancing in the gray areas, Stick expands the boundaries of coming of age YA in the best possible way. Bringing in both humor and sorrow with it, and holding a poignant and endearing note throughout, this book will test a reader’s way of thinking without forcing anything.
The writing is fantastic, perfect in voice and authenticity. Though there is an emotional air, the biggest palpable feeling at any given moment is exactly what Stick is feeling. Be it embarrassment at the way his body reacts to the most mundane of things, like a look from his friend’s mom, simple enjoyment at spending a day at the beach, or pure and unadulterated fear and confusion, every single motion is perfectly woven into the words without ever pulling the reader out of the story. With an easy writing style that fits with Stick, and a noticeable change in it as Stick’s character grows and develops, Smith’s talent for writing is clear and concise.
Gritty and affecting, Stick is both dark and hopeful in all the right ways. With stunning characterization and a well scripted plot, this one will lure readers in and not relent. Refusing to keep things wrapped in pretty boxes, and having flawed but very likable characters, Stick is a must read.
Source: ARC from ALA
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (October 11, 2011)