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Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick
 Summer vacation day 21/ Book 20

Remember the name, Amber Appleton, self-proclaimed "princess of hope" and leader of Franks Freaks. If Amber does not touch your heart, ice runs in your veins. 

Amber Appleton has lived in school bus #161, the "Hello Yellow," that her mother drives part-time, ever since her Mom's latest boyfriend kicked them out of his apartment. Amber loves her mom even though she has a drinking problem and terrible taste in men. Living in a school bus presents some logistical problems, there's the cold (it's January) and that makes toileting a challenge; the lack of electricity puts a bit of a damper on doing homework; and Amber has to rise before dawn to stow her belongings and leave the bus yard before the drivers arrive. Amber is not one to whine and moan about these setbacks, she faces them full on and deals with them as best she can. She has faith in herself and in her man, JC, Jesus Christ, whom she views as "sorta like a rock star."

Each night, after the street light blinks off, she rests her eyes until her mother stumbles in. Her mom then takes Amber's rescued dog, Bobby Big Boy, 3Bm or Thrice B out for a final whizz and kisses Amber goodnight. Once her family is tucked in safely for the night, Amber prays,

        "I let go of the day's frustrations, push my palms together into prayer position, and I silently hold up all the people and dogs in this world who I absolutely positively know need me to pray for them: Mom, 3B, Ricky, Donna, Franks, Chad, Jared, Ty Door Woman Lucy, Old Man Linder (my manager), Old Man Thompson, Joan of Old and all of the old people down in the Methodist home, Father Chee, The Korean Divas for Christ, Mr. Doolin, Private Jackson, Ms. Jenny, Prince Tony, the Childress Public High School faculty and the whole damn town of Childress, even the football team, even Lex Pinkston, EVEN my absentee biological father, Bob, who may or may not even be alive for all I know - I hold them all up to JC in my prayers..." (p. 16)

Amber is a caretaker. She not only takes care of her alcoholic, inept mother, she takes care of the entire world - or at least, the town of Childress. As she tells her story, in present tense, punctuated by little verbal tics like "Word," or "True," or "True? True," that are at turns endearing and irritating, we meet all the people in Amber's prayers. And what a cast of characters! Most are as endearing as Amber. I am so tempted to describe some or all of them, but I will leave that for you to discover.

It is taking me an awfully long time to write this post because I keep deleting long, gushing descriptions and plot points. My book is dog-eared, yes, I, who (almost) never dog-ear, DOG-EARED this book! If you were to look at my copy sideways, the page edges do not lie nice and flat. Also, the spine got a bit lopsided. I don't know why. Maybe because the book is now a bit soft and mushy from the buckets of tears that I shed while reading. 

I am an unabashed crier while reading. My students know this, as do my friends and family. I can usually manage to read through my tears, but not this time. I cried while I laughed, I laughed while I cried. I frequently felt the need to bookmark my place with the jacket and walk around a bit. The last time a book did this to me was a few years ago while reading Deadline, by Chris Crutcher. If Ben Wolf is the king of the weepies, then Amber Appleton is queen.

Amber's moral compass points true north, aided by her faith in her personal vision of Jesus (as a gentle, forgiving hippie as opposed to an aloof punisher)  and reinforced by her reading of the literature of civil disobedience.  

   "I stare into his eyes (Prince Tony, aka Principal Fiorilli), and I see him swallow once. He digs me, and he knows that Lex Pinkston needs to be kicked in the shin and slapped every so often, if only to maintain the balance of power within the student body so that evil doesn't get out of control; the boss man sees this because deep down, Prince Tony is a good man - even if he is a wimp who plays both sides of the political fence..."

    "You're a good man, Prince Tony," I say, "and I believe that you will eventually clean up this school and protect the common students from the selfish interest of school board members like Mr. Pinkston..."(p. 46)

Do I love and adore this book? I do. I love this book despite a few teeny tiny imperfections. Every once and a while, the story veered treacherously close to melodrama and there were a few niggling doubts about plot point believability. However, they were pushed aside by the magnificence that was Amber. When tragedy strikes and Amber loses her ability to cope, ingenious use of white space, haiku and spare dialogue conveys just how fragile Amber has become. Any niggling was pushed down and out as I rooted for Amber to find herself.

So. I have another book for the "reread" pile. I also wonder how it would be handled as an audio. It is available on cd, but I'm almost reluctant to try it. Amber's voice is so clear in my head. I might be disappointed in the performance. 

I'm also curious about the book's release date. My copy has 2009 printed on the verso, but its BN listing states a May of 2010 release date. I am wondering because I hope it wins an award or two. I loved this book so much that I thought to nominate it for Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) and found that it already has been nominated. I'll be rooting for it and have found one more reason to attend ALA Midwinter. Do check out the list of nominations so far, Sorta Like a Rock Star is in very excellent company.

I'll end this overly long post with a link to Matthew Quick's website. Sorta Like a Rock Star is his YA debut. He has one adult novel under his belt. Hm. Can I add this title to my 2010 debut challenge? Does his adult title knock him out of the running for the YALSA award for debut novels (as it did Martin Wilson)?  

 PS: (sorry) As I was adding my tags below, I saw that I was filing a number of tags that begin with the letter "f." Amber was the leader of Franks' Freaks and there were five. This novel is about the power faith, friendship, family and forgiveness. I will think some more to try and come up with a fifth "f."