Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When Everything is Torn Away

If you live in tornado alley, you not only respect these hulking beasts, you also get used to them. When the siren blows, you might not run right to the shelter, but you keep an eye out. While you can't live in fear for half a year during the season, being lulled into a false sense of security can be very, very dangerous. In Jennifer Brown's Torn Away, the lives of so many were changed forever with the presence of more than just a funnel cloud... it was like the finger of God himself.

Jersey Cameron grew up knowing what to do in the event of a tornado; its just that she never really had to do it. Occasionally, the family would go to the basement, but most of the time the sirens were a false alarm. So it got easier and easier to ignore them. She gets home and starts a meal like any other normal day while her mother takes her sister to dance class, but there is nothing normal about this day. This is the day that they never saw coming and will never be able to forget. 

When Jersey realizes the tornado warning is real this time, she turns dinner off and heads to the basement. Hiding down there, she quickly realizes the tornado is bigger than anyone thought. By the time it is over, she leaves the basement to see that her entire house is almost gone. Her neighborhood is almost gone. Her neighbors, and everyone around her, are either injured, or even dead. If her neighborhood is this bad, how could her mother and sister have survived? All alone, Jersey realizes just how destructive the tornado really was. 

This book starts with the destruction of a tornado, but it continues down the road of a young girl's dysfunctional family. Her mother never spoke to her own parents, and so Jersey is sent to live with her father whom she has never met. When she gets there, it is clear these people just don't give a crap about Jersey or anything she has gone through. While the premise of the book is the tornado, the continuation of the story really gets to the heart of the aftermath of such a tragedy.  It was a really amazing and heartbreaking journey for both Jersey and the reader. Here was a normal girl in a normal midwest life who had everything she ever knew or loved sucked up into a funnel cloud. What is left is damaged beyond all repair... or is it. 

This is a book about family, about healing, and also about grieving. I think pegging this book as a "storm book" doesn't really get to the heart of Brown's purpose for the story. If it was a storm book, it would have ended when Jersey was shipped to her dad's house. Instead it kept going, proving Brown had more to say. I have always like Brown's stories, because they aren't afraid to get to the dark and ugly side of things, and Torn Away is no different. I think this story, while dark and sad, would be appropriate for a variety of students. The real-life implications are deep, and a reader will have a hard time not connecting to the story. Jersey is a young woman who was dealt the worst hand possible, yet there is still hope for her with each page you flip. 

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