Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt

A few days ago, Susan over at Wizards Wireless was kind enough to loan me her ARC of Gary D. Schmidt’s newest novel, Trouble. Schmidt’s Newbery Honor-winning The Wednesday Wars was one of my favorite novels of 2007 so I was looking forward to this one!

I was very excited when I received it and began reading immediately.Trouble is very different from The Wednesday Wars. Where “Wednesday Wars” was funny, poignant, and sometimes even gut-busting, “Trouble” is poignant, full of sorrow and pain, and haunting at times.

Throughout his life, Henry Smith’s father told him that if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you.  This mantra guides Henry’s life – along with his mother, father, sister Louisa, and older brother Franklin.  However, you can’t avoid Trouble forever, and one night it comes crashing down into Henry’s world in the form of Cambodian immigrant, Chay Chouan. When Chouan’s truck strikes Franklin one night, the resulting racial tensions tear apart quaint Blythebury-by-the-Sea and Henry’s family.

Henry is caught between anger and grief.  Is his brother the All-American hero that the town views him as?  Or is he flawed, maybe even more flawed than most human beings?  How did Trouble find the Smith’s?  Unsure of what to do, he sets out to do the only thing he can- climb Mt.  Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine, which he and Franklin were going to climb together.  Henry, Black Dog (whom he rescued from drowning), and his friend Sanborn set out for Mt. Katahdin without telling their parents.  The journey teaches them more than they ever could have imagined and Henry slowly begins to understand himself, his family, his ancestry, his town, and the world around him.

I loved this book.  “Trouble” had tears in my eyes at some points and made me angry at other points.  Chay Chouan’s family history is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking.  Henry struggles with the possibility that his revered older brother may not deserve the adoration he always so readily accepted (and that Henry so readily offered).  It’s a magnificent picture of one boy’s coming-of-age in a world plagued by Trouble.

Even though I loved “Troub;e”, I don’t think this is a novel many of my students will pick up.  While “The Wednesday Wars” had a voice that attracted 12-13 year olds, I don’t think Henry’s voice will resonate with my students.  I would recommend this to an older audience.  The story is beautiful and I couldn’t put the book down! I wouldn’t be surprised to see this novel on most shortlists for the Newbery in 2009.

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