Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Toxic Siblings: Tangerine and Riding Invisible

Reading Reality Boy last week reminded me of this post I'd put together for my students.  Like RB, these two books feature main characters with abusive older siblings.  It's kind of interesting--most "my sibling has a mental illness" books are uplifting and possibly even preachy, but "my sibling is a psychopath" books have a distinctly different feel.  Let's just say that your sympathies are less divided.

With a few minor revisions, here are my other Toxic Siblings reviews.

Let me start by saying that I love all three of my sisters.  My status as the family afterthought meant that I avoided all that sibling rivalry and bickering, and once I caught up to them in adulthood, they became my closest friends.

But not everyone is that lucky, right?

Today's post will focus on two books that have one thing in common: the protanogist's older brother is a horrible human being.  Both books are told from the protagonist's point of view, which means that they themselves might not understand everything that is going on, or that went on.  As they go on their own journeys of discovery, the reader is right there with them, seeing what will happen and learning what has already happened.

In Tangerine, our narrator is Paul, whose family has just moved to Tangerine, Florida.  Paul is legally blind behind his thick glasses, but has enough vision to be a killer keeper on his middle school's soccer team.  The book has many mysteries and secrets that are slowly revealed--Why won't the team's star player grant interviews to the local paper?  What caused the sinkhole under the school?  What exactly is being sprayed into the air from all those trucks?  But the biggest reveal has to do with how Paul lost his sight, and how his family responds to that knowledge.

Riding Invisible is in the form of an illustrated diary.  Yancy, the narrator, is 15, and he is running away with his horse, Shy.  Why is he running away--and on a horse, no less?  It's because his dangerously aggressive brother has gone from bullying Yancy to attacking his horse.  Yancy's brother, Will, has a severe conduct disorder, and their parents are so focused on trying to help him and manage his behavior that Yancy feels invisible in his own family.  Once he breaks away, Yancy struggles to survive, meets a girl, learns some life lessons from a migrant worker, and forces his family to see him in his absence in a way they never did when he was there.

Added comments for Falconer's Library:

I have loved Tangerine since I first read it almost 15 years ago.  There is so much going on--family dynamics, environmentalism, exploration of classism,  denial, and an awesome scene in which a sinkhole  swallows up some portables.  I am re-reading it for the first time right now--slowly, because it was the read-aloud one class voted on.  I've realized that Paul's life in a wealthy, white family is pretty far removed from most of my students', and I'm chomping at the bit to get to the parts where Paul meets other kids and figures some stuff out.

Riding Invisible resonates with me as the parent of two kids, one of whom is considerably more "troubled" than the other.  How do you balance the very different needs of both children; how do you give them both the time and attention they deserve (while still maintaining your own sanity)?  Neither of my children are psychopaths (or even high functioning sociopaths), but I know my younger kid often feels shafted when her time with me gets highjacked by her brother's shenanigans.

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