Pup Flanagan has spent most of his seventeen years as (in his mind) an undistinguished person compared to his seven older siblings. At school he is accepted by his classmates but generally ignored, neither liked nor disliked. He has no particular interest in his classes or in any extracurricular activities, and even the girl he has adored since freshman year is completely unaware of his feelings and uses him as a lookout for her hookup sessions with someone he detests.
At home, Pup’s parents (who call him their Surprise Child because his mom was so old when he was conceived and born) are still dealing with the sad death of their son Patrick from bacterial meningitis, as are the rest of his siblings. Older brother Luke is particularly acting out in destructive ways, and his excessive drinking, moodiness and combative attitude worry Pup, though he doesn’t bring it up with his parents because everyone in the family is working so hard at appearing normal at the expense of dealing with their grief.
Things change when Pup’s art teacher informs him he’s about to fail for the year unless he can successfully complete one final photography assignment. He hands him a camera and tells him to meet up with some other students for an early sunrise photo shoot at the beach. Arriving too late for the group activity, he is pitied by one of the girls who, through a series of events, teaches him how to develop not only his film but his talent.
As with his photographs, Pup’s skill at looking at relationship angles and odd pairings of facts enables him to bring about reconciliation among family members by forcing them to deal with buried, unhappy feelings about Patrick’s death, while at the same time he learns some useful stuff about himself and his friends.
This thoughtful book has much to recommend it. Dealing with grief, overcoming feelings of mediocrity, learning to value oneself, taking time to emphathize with and listen to others are all issues that speak to young adults. In the book are sexual references and descriptions of hookups typical of YA books. Offensive language includes the usual hell, shit, damn, asshole stuff as well as religious profanity. Also included is a same-sex relationship between Pup’s older sister and her partner, along with a description of the high school bullying she endured as a teenager coming out.
Categories: Art, Bullying, Controversial YA Topics, Death and Grieving, Depression, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Grief, Immigrants, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Violence