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Book of the Month: January -- Saving Red
Fourteen-year-old Molly has to finish her volunteer community service hours. Now. Really. The assignment is due tomorrow morning. Which is how she finds herself in the company of Feather and Eden, doing Santa Monica's annual count of homeless people. When Molly finds a teenage girl in the grip of a nightmare sleeping on a park bench, she can't forget the girl with the blazing red hair. After a couple of chance encounters with Red, Molly vows to reunite Red with her family for Christmas.
It turns out to be a lot more difficult than Molly imagines.
Molly's dealing with her own problems at home. Something tragic happened, but Molly won't say it aloud, and neither will her parents. So her mother copes by smoking pot and buying one of everything from the Home Shopping Network, and her father deals with it all by working so much he's hardly ever home. Molly's so traumatized by this event, that she's prone to panic attacks, and has a preternaturally wise service dog named Pixel.
Red hears voices. Sometimes they tell her to do helpful things. Other times, their instructions are destructive to both Red and her family. Plus, Red isn't the slightest bit interested in getting help.
Throw in Cristo, the boy she meets on the Ferris wheel at the Pacific Park pier, and Molly has quite the jam-packed winter break from school.
Technically, this is a "verse novel," or a novel written entirely in poetry. But this isn't you're grandmother's poetry, or even your mother's poetry. Sones writes stunning, moving inner monologues, where the placement of a single word can pack more of a visceral emotional punch than pages of text. You also still get the experience of reading a novel, but without the edge-to-edge text of a traditional novel. Don't let the size of the book intimidate you! It's a quick read. I found myself eagerly turning the page to find out what happened next. Sones also doesn't trivialize mental illness. She delves into the impact it can have on the person struggling with an illness and their families. Even though Sones manages to neatly wrap up the novel at the end, it's obvious that there are still lots of unanswered questions.
Sones also wrote What My Mother Doesn't Know and What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know. Other verse novels you might want to try are Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhhai Lai or the Crank series by Ellen Hopkins.
There are several novels that also deal with mental illness, but you might want to read Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork or Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.