Saturday, November 27, 2010

Riding Invisible by Sandra Alonzo, illustrated by Nathan Huang

Yancy has lived his whole life in fear of his older brother.  Diagnosed with a conduct disorder, his older brother Will's extreme behavior - violence, threats, etc - has created an atmosphere that feels as if he's holding the family hostage.  In order to escape, Yancy has been spending time at a local horse boarding facility, adopting a recuperating horse named Shy, but when Will threatens Shy, cutting off his tail and slashing at his side with a scissors, Yancy, fearing for his horse despite telling his parents what happened, runs away.

Sandra Alonzo's Riding Invisible is Yancy's journal, and this journal includes Yancy's illustrations, as he's a budding artist.  (Nathan Huang does the illustrations for the book, which is done like Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).  While on the run, Yancy meets a kind Mexican immigrant who takes him in, giving him a place to stay and to board Shy, while Yancy helps out on the ranch where the man is employed.  Yancy begins to see his family's situation from his parents' point of view - how difficult must it be for them to struggle with such an out of control child, both wanting to help him, to fix him, while also trying to protect Yancy and themselves - and when they find him, he tries to come to terms with the whole situation.

I was skeptical of this story from the moment I realized how similar the format was to Alexie's National Book Award winner, and my skepticism increased through the first couple of chapters.  Yancy's voice is very young for a 14/15-yr-old at the beginning (especially one who's faced a troubled sibling, who it is later revealed is into drugs, etc.).  Alonzo throws in some curse words, but it feels forced.  However, she seems to hit her stride at about the middle, and the descriptions of his family's troubles are both scary and sad.  I also felt that Yancy's feeling that as the 'good' son, he's become invisible to his parents, as they're forced more and more to cope with their oldest son was realistic and handled well.

I read this as a consideration for the Maricopa County Mock Printz awards, and while I think Riding Invisible is worth reading, I don't think it's the best teen book of the year.


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