09 January 2015

Stick by Andrew Smith

Oh, wow. What a novel. What a story.

STICK tells the story of Stark McClellan, an almost-fourteen-year-old born with only one ear. Stark is tall and skinny, which earned him his nickname Stick. He has an older brother, Bosten, whom he adores, and a best friend, Emily, who he's quickly finding out he has deeper feelings for.

If GHOST MEDICINE had echoes of 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, and IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS' Jonah reminded me of GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE's Austin, then Stick reminded me a lot of Ryan Dean from WINGER.

Both guys felt apart from everyone else for something they had no control over - Stick's missing ear, Ryan Dean's age. Both had an earnestness to them that made their hardships so unbearable to witness - yet so compelling that you had to read on.

Stick's hardships come from his parents. Stick and Bosten live in a house of rules, and the punishments for breaking any of them are severe: they're beaten and then banished to what Stick calls St. Fillan's Room, a spare room with only a bed and a pail for them to do their business.

Things get even worse for the boys when their parents find out that Bosten is gay. Stick never had any problem with it; he loves his brother more than anything. When Bosten runs away, Stick sets out to find him.

I don't know where Andrew Smith finds the deep well of empathy to write what he writes. He goes to some dark places and it's amazing to me how he's still able to shine a light. STICK went to some really harsh places, and there were times it was hard to keep reading. I did keep reading, though - I read the whole thing in two days flat. Would have read it in one, if I didn't have to go to work.

STICK was amazing. Each of Smith's novels has been better than the one that came before, and STICK was no exception. For the first time I started to see the humor that would be so prominent in WINGER, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, and 100 SIDEWAYS MILES start to come to the fore. That streak of absurdity starts to creep in from the moment Stick and Bosten, along with Bosten's friend Paul, decide to go set off some firecrackers.

Don't read any further if you don't want the ending spoiled.

Because OH MY GOD. That ending. I was actually terrified for Bosten. I so didn't want things to end badly. The boys had been through so much.

I know in real life sometimes things go from bad to worse. I know sometimes there's no coming back. That sometimes, life does beat you down and keep you there until you burn yourself out and fade away.

But if that had happened, I would have thrown STICK into the nearest fireplace in rage.

Thank goodness that did not happen. The ending was beautiful and hopeful and so happy I almost cried.

Now I have to go buy my own copy.