I have a history of loving Susan Shaw's work, so when I pulled this new one out of the box I couldn't wait to get started. And even though I knew...knew that it wasn't going to be one of those happy happy joy joy books, it hit me like a sucker punch. Gut-wrenching is perhaps the word that describes it best. Poignant and thought-provoking and hard and real are others that come close.
I've experienced the frustration of the office testing and retesting the fire alarm system all day. Of the constant interruptions on the loud-speaker. THIS IS ONLY A TEST. again and again and again until you are ready to scream. It is equally trying for the teachers and students, too. You just want it to shut up. Pretty soon you ignore it as best you can.
I've also had the experience of my school burning down. My situation was different, though, because it happened on a holiday and no one was in the building. We were all safe, unlike Joey and Maureen's classmates.
Joey has recently lost his mom in a house fire, so he jumps everytime it sounds. Even with his history teacher droning on and on. Even when they say its just a test.
And then...it sounds again...only this time the message is garbled. static in the background. What are they saying? is it just an alarm again? surely it is. right?
Joey knows he can't stay in that room. Every instinct is pounding in him to GET OUT. He, along with his best friend Maureen leave despite the promise of detention from his yelling teacher who refuses to leave. No one else defies the teacher. No one else survives.
Survivor guilt coupled with hate-filled shouts of "murderer" make life incredibly difficult for a while. And then, through journaling and artwork healing slowly beings. And Joey is invited to speak at the tree-planting ceremony at the memorial for his lost classmates.
"They want me to come and talk about the sketch and why I drew what I drew. That picture. I bled to draw it. Those pencil lines are my blood that flowed from my veins. I didn't draw it to be smart or funny or creative or because I was bored or anything like that. I had to record that moment. It was important, maybe the most important thing I've ever done. That drawing shows all there is to show the moment that everything changed."
Read this book. It will change you.