Grief, Guilt, and Recovery in Four Cybils’ Middle Grade Fiction Books

The Last Invisible Boy by Evan Kuhlman.

Gone From These Woods by Donna Bailey Seagraves.

Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur.

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by MIck Cochrane.

Disclaimer: There are some spoilers in these reviews. I couldn’t discuss the books otherwise. If you just want to know the general subject, see the title of this post and go read one or all of them. The Last Invisible Boy uses metaphor and imagination to deal with the grieving process in a creative way. Love, Aubrey is about a girl whose father and little sister have died in an accident and whose mother is so immersed in her own grief that she neglects Aubrey. In The Girl Who Threw Butterflies Molly deals with grief by using baseball as both therapy and metaphor. And Gone From These Woods is about a hunting accident. Read on only if you want to know more.

Betsy-Bee and I already discussed Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur in this post a couple of weeks ago. I reviewed The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, which I loved, here. I don’t have much to add, except that Aubrey and Molly seem much more resilient than the boys in the other two books featured here.

In The Last Invisible Boy twelve year old Finn Garrett is convinced that he is slowly fading into invisibility after his father’s sudden death caused by a heart attack. Everyone else in the book is also convinced that something is wrong with Finn since his hair has faded to white and his skin has become “as pale as a ghost’s.” I never quite understood what it was that was really happening to Finn, but I decided to just go with it, willing suspension and all that jazz. Obviously, Finn feels like “the Bleached-Out Nearly Invisible Boy,” so metaphor or fantasy or reality, it’s where Finn is, anyway.

And where he continues to be for almost 230 pages. The book is h-e-a-v-y, even though Finn gives the reader permission to take a break and go play outside. Finn has a lot of feelings to work through, and his grief and anger and guilt feel real. As bibliotherapy, the book might work, or might be such a downer that the child reading it would go into a major depression. I don’t know. As a picture of what it feels like to lose a parent and how grief is a process that takes time and energy and even decisions to feel better eventually, the book would be of interest to a certain type of psychoanalytic or morbidly curious child. That’s not a criticism, by the way; I have more than one “mordibly curious” child, and I’m a bit that way myself. I just don’t know if I could read this one, or if I would recommend reading it, when grief is fresh and personal.

Gone From These Woods is a more straightforward narrative about a boy, eleven year old Daniel Sartain, who accidentally shoots his favorite uncle and surrogate father, Clay, while the two are hunting. The accident is fatal, and Daniel feels like a monster. The book is not anti-hunting, although it seems to me as if it might a good book to give to a young man who’s going hunting for the first or the fortieth time to remind him to be careful. Daniel has to deal with not only grief, but also an overwhelming sense of guilt, since the shot that killed his uncle came from Daniel’s shotgun, even if it did go off accidentally. In fact, Daniel is so depressed that he nearly commits suicide, but his uncle’s memory keeps him from completing that desperate act. It is doubly sad that Daniel is bereft of his uncle and also of almost all support in dealing with his uncle’s death, since Daniel’s father is an alcoholic with his own demons of guilt and abusiveness.

I found this book to be “morbidly fascinating,” too. I’ll try it out on Karate Kid, but he may have too sunny a disposition for this kind of reading.

What about you? Do you have any “grief books” that you find especially insightful and even enjoyable to read? I define a grief book as one in which someone dies at the beginning, and the main character spends the book dealing with his or her grief and healing. Any suggestions, either for adults or for children? Come to think of it this recent read by Elizabeth Berg was a “grief book,” and I enjoyed it, too.

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One or more of these books is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own.

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