A look at families as they really are
"Families are the strangest things. They can drive you nuts, make you run screaming into the night, but there is still this connection." With this remark, the narrator of Joan Bauer's "Hardware," the lead story in Necessary Noise, sets the tone for an excellent collection of narratives. Editor and writer Michael Cart invited leading young adult authors to contribute stories responding to the question "What does the word family mean to teenagers today?" The range of responses he received reflects the range of families in America. Themes include mental illness, homelessness, drugs and physical abuse, but these darker issues are well balanced by the lighter, humorous stories that begin and end the collection. "Hardware" is about a family and community responding to a giant corporation's moving in and taking over, driving a family hardware store out of business. It's a serious topic made humorous by Bauer's wonderful characterizations. In "Snowbound," the story by Lois Lowry that concludes the volume, Evelyn Collier arrives home from college with her new boyfriend Loosh. Everyone, including Evelyn, comes to hate this interloper, who sleeps naked, says Whittier "sucks," wipes his nose on his sleeve and doesn't eat "mammal." The story, framed by lines from John Greenleaf Whittier's "Snowbound," humorously delineates how a family regains its equilibrium after disruption by an alien presence. Sonya Sones, a master of the free verse novel, delivers "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde," a powerful story about an abusive older sister. Lucy chases Sasha, her younger sibling, down the hallway "like a fire-breathing dragon, hands clawing the air at my back." She torments Sasha, making her fear for her life at times. It's a dark story, but there's hope: Lucy goes off to college in 739 days. Along with the range of themes in this anthology is a range of writing styles, from conventionally structured works to stories written in dialogue and free verse. Traditional nuclear families are a minority now, and it's nice to see an excellent collection that reflects reality. An author of other solid short story collections, including Tomorrowland, Cart offers here another fine and important volume. Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.