Cover your ears, gentle souls, because it is about to get LOUD in here. And there will be swearing.
I socked in to Beneath a Meth Moon last night after the kids went to bed, and stayed up late reading it in one go. And from page one I was struck - again - by how singular, how passionate, how direct... how enormously fucking talented Jacqueline Woodson is.
She is always so. I have read, oh a half dozen of her books. Never reviewed one, because after all, who needs ME to tell them to read Jackie Woodson? Your teachers are going to tell you to, or you're going to spot her on an awards list (she has gotten just about all of them at one time or another, so much so that that part of her website has to be called "Some awards I've won," which makes me giggle), or you are going to pick up After Tupac and D Foster because what??! there is a book in this library with Tupac's name in the title? I didn't think anybody in this whole shaggy room would have known who Tupac was!
But from that first page of this book, with early snowflakes dusting down upon our sad happy heroine, tangling in her white blonde hair and sifting onto the shoulders of her white jacket full of feathers, I knew I had things to say about Jackie Woodson and that this would be the time.
It's almost winter again and the cold moves through this town like water washing over us. My coat is a gift from my father, white and filled with feathers. My hair is healthy again and the wind whips the white-blond strands of it over my face and into my eyes so that from far away, I must look like some pale ghost standing at the corner of Holland and Ankeny.
Have you ever heard Jacqueline Woodson read? Her voice is soft but sharp, with this little creak to it that sounds like heartbreak. The way she says the word "hope," which happens to occur in a fair number of her books, should be recorded as the very definition of the word - fragile, a sound shyly trying to ingratiate itself with the future. And she has excellent comic timing. Her books are often a lot funnier when they are read aloud.
Here you go - snagged off Studio 360's feature about this book:
Beneath a Meth Moon is, sure enough, a story about a teenage girl, Laurel, who starts using meth. Laurel has moved with her family to a small, windy town from their sultry Gulf Coast home after it was destroyed by a hurricane, her mother and grandmother destroyed with it. She begins to recover in her new town - makes a friend, becomes a cheerleader, meets a boy. But she would like to feel even better, and when the boy lets her taste his drug, she remembers what it's like to not have terrible things to forget.
As harsh and frightening as the subject may seem, it's essential that teen readers have access to honest narrative about drug use. Kids as young as ten or eleven will ask, "If drugs are so bad, why does anybody use them?" Better for them to learn about the brief euphorias and lengthy crashes of meth use by watching Laurel go through them than to try to figure it all out for themselves.
Jackie Woodson writes in short chapters - her books read quick. This makes them marvelous options for middle school or high school class reads. Fortunately for everyone - students and teachers alike - these pared-down, poetic stories are of the highest quality. I wonder sometimes if people look at a slender book and dismiss it slightly, thinking that the author is pandering to kids who would balk at anything with a higher page count. The opposite is true here. Rather, Jacqueline Woodson has the discipline to carve away everything nonessential. She chooses the most pungent words and the most sparkling phrases, so that her lean prose never feels austere.
Beneath a Meth Moon has also been reviewed by:
and - woo! - NPR's Studio 360.