Don't Be Afraid
by Steven Hayward
Alfred A. Knopf Canada (Random House Canada)
Published: January 25, 2011
Description: Hayward's darkly comic novel of adolescent anxiety reveals an unforgettable family caught in a state of mourning. Meet Jim Morrison--not the lead singer of the Doors who died a rock 'n' roll death in 1971, but a chubby seventeen-year-old living in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who was born days after the singer's death. Jim, or Jimmy, as most people call him, has been living a largely invisible life, overshadowed by his older brother, Mike, popular and charismatic, and his father, Fort, a stern and unyielding engineer. Jimmy spends his time avoiding gym, transforming his uneventful days into scenes from his favourite movies and occasionally going on banana diets (special banana carrier required).
But everything changes the night the library explodes, with pieces of books and catalogue cards falling like snow from the dark sky. Jimmy is first on the scene with his father and it's soon clear that Mike had been in the library when it exploded, possibly meeting a girlfriend after hours. Mike's death upends the Morrisons' suburban life and any sense of normalcy is destroyed. Their mother, Filomena, is nearly catatonic with shock, and Jimmy must become his much younger brother's nanny, taking him to preschool every day and uncomfortably hanging out with a gang of mothers, watching them breastfeed and talking about peanut allergies. Life gets even more surreal. The cause of the library explosion remains mysterious, and Jimmy tries to help his father unofficially gather evidence at the site. Add to this his duties surrounding his mother's idea to have a birthday party for his dead brother, and Jimmy finds himself busier and, bizarrely, happier than he's ever been. With generous humour and characteristic energy, Steven Hayward weaves a story of the undercurrents of family life and the unpredictable ways our paths can unfold.
The Good Stuff
- As the description states so beautifully and bang on - This IS a "darkly comic novel" that deals with family members separately lost in their own grief
- Extremely darkly funny, my type of novel
- Steven really understands how grief affects us all so differently and when something tragic happens how it affects the family as a unit
- Loved that he gives the History and Geography Teacher the names of our respective teachers at Richmond Hill High School (BTW, they were both OUTSTANDING teachers)
- Description of the library brings back memories of my old public library - man I miss card catalogs
- The discussion about the James James poem is hilarious - sort of reminds me of some of the conversations around our dinner table
- Mentions the town of South Porcupine in Northern Ontario where we drove through every year when visiting my mom's family
- Loved the scenes with the mommies from the daycare because they are so very true to life. Trust me I'm a Mom
- Wonderful witty writing and just real and honest -- my review cannot not due this book justice, just go buy the damn think ok
- The character of Vivian isn't very strongly developed in my opinion, I wanted to hear more of her voice
- A Library is blown up -- hmm a little sensitive about that since - well - I'm a Librarian and work in a library : )
"I call Mike my dead brother because he is, and so there won't be any weirdness later. Otherwise there'd be this awkward moment when you'd have to nod and say how sorry you are, just like you'd done if you'd been at the funeral home and had to stand there with me in front of Mike's casket. I'd thank you for being sorry, and maybe you'd say it again, say how really sorry you were, but eventually you'd walk away, leaving me there while you took off somewhere else, anywhere else, relieved it's not you in the middle of this, that it's my dead brother in that coffin, not yours."
"It didn't even look like she could hear us but I guess she might have caught on to the fact that what was happening was the mothering equivalent of having her driver's license revoked."
"I've come to think of the mothers of the other children as the Mothers, like they're a street gang with a ringleader, a bunch of henchmen and also a couple of loser sidekick characters who you know are going to end up being killed early in the movie because of a botched robbery."
"It's libraries, she maintained, that show us what heaven will be like. Look at these books, she'd say, how can there be so many books and no eternity in which to read them."
"I don't want a gun. In the country I'm from"-this was one of my father's favorite things to do, to refer to Canada as if it were a distant other world in the far reaches of the galaxy - "we don't have guns."
What I Learned
- Damn, who knew the boy I mostly remember for singing Rock and Roll, Hoochie Coo in those tight spandex pants(sorry Steve when I think of you that is the outfit I remember the most) could write something so outstanding
- Some facts about Jim Morrison that I never knew
- For those who enjoy dark comedies
- Anyone who grew up in the 80's (especially Richmond Hill in the 80's) will enjoy
- Fans of Mordecai Richler will appreciate Hayward's writing
- Honestly I think pretty much anyone could find something to enjoy in this one
I received this book from Random House in exchange for an honest review