Many Stones by Carolyn Coman
New York Puffin Books 2000 158p.
Realistic Fiction (Keepin’ It Real 2009)
Carolyn Coman has managed to deal with grief at a level that teens will be able to identify with as Berry is very believable character who, genuinely wants to relate better to everyone in her life.
Berry is in high school, has a boyfriend Josh, parents are divorced, dad pops in and out of her life when it is convenient for him and she lives with her mother. That is a lot of stress for any teenager to handle; now, add that an older sister Laura, who a year and half ago, was brutally murdered while volunteering in a school in South Africa. Now that is unbearable stress! Berry is handling this the best way she can by trying to keep up with school and swimming but her whole world is falling apart. Author, Carolyn Coman does a wonderful job of getting into this mind of a very depressed teen so that you can feel her pain and anguish. At times this book makes the reader feel very uncomfortable as Berry teeters near the edge of losing control, like when she finds herself floating during a swim race or having people drag her out of the pool during a swimathon, where she swam so many laps she was almost drowning.
Berry’s father, an always in charge and in control kind of guy, decides to take Berry to South Africa to a memorial service at the school where Laura volunteered. Berry was to present the money to the school from the swimathon. She is not happy about going but something inside draws her to agreeing. Her father and her barely even speak when they do it’s hardly civil.
To fill some of the time before the memorial service, Berry’s father has scheduled some business, some sightseeing and an African Safari. Berry is just going through the motions but the safari sparks some life into her that she has not felt for a long time. Coman vividly describes a captivating scene while on safari as the tour watches a lioness and her cubs devour a giraffe saying, “One of the cubs is inside the ripped-open rib cage of the giraffe and chewing on it from the inside out” (87). It allows the reader to really see the events through the characters eyes.
What really sets this apart from other novels that deal with grieving is the symbolism that Coman uses to link to Berry’s feelings of grief, adornment and fear. The stones that Berry piles on her chest are a great representation of the weight of her grief. The boyfriend was a way to not feel alone and the water, her swimming, a total escape from the world. At times one might have to read the page over and over to see all the symbolism and where Berry’s thoughts were taking the reader.
The minor characters were compact snippets as they moved in and out of the book quickly. Each had a profound effect on Berry, like the white woman who was racist that ran the bed and breakfast and Father Alan whose mere presence was compassion.
Finding the courage to speak at the memorial service and start reconciliation with her father brought this gripping novel to a satisfying completion. Teen readers will certainly identify with the ups and downs in the parental relationships and perhaps with the feeling of loss that Berry was experiencing. What most teens will not have experienced and will draw them in is how totally consumed Berry was in all facets of her life with her losses; the loss of her sister, loss from the divorce, the loss of part of herself. The book goes way beyond the surface.
An additional strength to this book is the accurate glimpse Coman gives us into Apartheid in South Africa; a time in history that teens may not have related to before this book. It is very readable, short but powerful novel.
Quality 5Q Popularity 4P Grade J & S Lexile 830
Awards: Printz Honor Book and 2000 National Book Award Finalist.
Extending this Book: Students could research Apartheid in South Africa or explore teen depression.
Tags: Realistic Fiction, Keepin’ It Real 2009, Greif, Homocide
Cover art by Rob Day should appeal to teens–a girl swimming with stones at the bottom of the pool is intriguing.
Website with author information: http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-coman-carolyn.asp