by James M. Deem. (Houghton Mifflin, 1994. ISBN 0395694531. Order Info.) Novel. 227 pages. Grades 6-9.
At the beginning of the book, Julian writes mostly in code. Many times he mystifies the reader using a combination of letters and numbers. Gradually, however, he becomes more trusting - not of the reader, but of himself. Slowly, the painful , awful story emerges. His mother - we don't even learn that it's she he is mourning for a long time - is dead. His father is remarried and both parents alternately ignore and abuse him. A teacher holds out a tentative hand but offers no real help. He needs to be with his mother and, in the process of attempting to do so, he steals some money, runs away, and very nearly dies. This is a fascinating look at a young man's search for the humanity buried inside himself.
Readers might like to talk about how and when they broke Julian's code as well as the signs they noticed about his mental deterioration or gaining of strength. The book, for all its anguish, ends on a hopeful note and we are left with the feeling that Julian is going to make it. Searching through biographies for real life situations which could have overpowered and yet did not might make an interesting outgrowth of this book as could research into child-abuse. What resources might have been available to Julian? The characters in this book are well drawn and the step mother's craziness could lead to a discussion of insanity and its various forms.
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