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22 February 2010 Richie's Picks: THE BEST AND HARDEST THING by Pat Brisson,Viking, May 2010, 240p., ISBN: 978-0-670-01166-7

"It's been three weeks since you've been looking for your friend
The one you let hit it and never called you again"
-- Lauryn Hill "Doo Wop (That Thing)"
"Carnal Knowledge But No Other
I don't know his middle name,
his birthday,
where he was born.
I don't know his favorite cereal,
his favorite sport,
his favorite flavor of ice cream.
I don't know why he moved here,
who he lives with,
how long he's staying.
I don't know if he wants to go to college,
join the army,
or what he wants to be.
I don't know if he has any brothers,
or cousins,
or pets.
I don't know if he believes in God,
or fairy tales,
or love.
I don't know much about him at all --
so why did I think I knew
he would use a condom."
My own first-time experience was not at all unique.  Like Molly, the narrator of THE BEST AND HARDEST THING, I was fifteen.  All I really knew for sure about sex beforehand was what I had picked up from once watching a pair of dogs.  I had no older siblings in whom to confide and I was never offered a fatherly talk.  I'd never encountered a photo or a diagram of a condom, no less seen one in person. 
We were both consuming alcohol the night of that first time.  In a recent telephone conversation, our memories conflicted as to where we were and whose idea it mostly was.  What we agree on now is that it had not been a very good idea.
It was really good to talk with that old friend for the first time in nearly forty years.  What is most amazing (and a great argument for teens holding off as long as possible) is recognizing that in the course of that one long telephone call the other night, I learned more about her childhood -- siblings, parents and grandparents, childhood friends, and adolescent beliefs -- than I'd picked up over the course of our entire eight-month-long high school relationship. 
No.  What is MOST amazing is that we didn't get pregnant.  (I came to find out in that recent conversation that two of her older siblings had gotten married because of unplanned pregnancies.)  I feel such relief in looking back and recognizing that this had been one more of those instances in my reckless adolescence when -- thanks to the vagaries of luck -- I somehow defied the odds to which so many others fall victim.
Others, like the young woman in this story, are not so lucky.
"Bad Boys
What is it about some guys?
They give off sparks as they walk by.
It doesn't mater if they're short or tall;
it doesn't matter if they're dark or light.
Some guys are beyond explanation;
some guys are both wrong and so right.
They give off sparks as they walk by,
and I'm inflammable and dry."
Molly Biden has always been studious and dependable.  Never having known her father, she's been living with her grandmother since her mother died.  When, in the wake of a revealing English class exercise about perceptions she decides that it is time to shed her goody-goody image by making herself over, she develops and carries out a plan to win over the mysterious, silent, and attractive new boy in town as if it were an AP science class project.
Unfortunately, her experiment explodes in her face when, after engaging in intercourse with him in order to win his loyalty and affection,  the young man shows no further interest in their afterschool activities and then disappears from school entirely.  
Three months later, still waiting for her period, Molly flunks the (pregnancy) test and reality sets in.  What is she going to do?
The one thing we do know, given the cover illustration, is that she decides against having an abortion. 
I really like how the author places a lot of focus on the rivalry that Molly perceives between herself and the Senior girl who is also making a move on the guy.  Getting the sense of Molly's being determined to succeed at any cost is key to understanding why this AP student chooses to engage in reckless behavior ,and it is all quite realistically portrayed.
In crafting Molly's story, author Pat Brisson utilizes a great variety of poetic forms.  In an innovative approach to supplementing the book in a way that she can fully explain the poetry and her process, Brisson is posting an extensive online glossary that is accessible through her author website.  The glossary provides a how-and-why behind-the-scenes look at the poetry forms that she has utilized and her reasons for employing particular forms in specific situations.  I am counting eighteen different forms that she has utilized in the book and has then explained in this very useful glossary.   
No matter whose statistics and trends you examine, there is no question that there are still far too many adolescents who lack accurate information, who engage in sex, and who engage in unprotected sex.  THE BEST AND HARDEST THING is one of those high-interest books of great value that you want to get in the hands of lots of eighth and ninth graders in the hope that some of them will later recognize and respond responsibly to the developing signs of temporary hormonal insanity in their own minds. 
Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com


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FTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books.  You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received.  Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries.



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