Oct 16, 2008

Book Review: The Day I Killed James

I generally don't read many books in the Young Adult genre, but I was happy to read THE DAY I KILLED JAMES by Catherine Ryan Hyde, especially after reading another of her books recently, CHASING WINDMILLS and liking it so much.

This is the story of Theresa, a senior in high school who lives with her father. Her mother took off long ago, so it's been just the two of them for awhile. They're relationship is a bit strained, mainly because her father is pretty much absent, emotionally and physically due to all the time he spends at his girlfriend's house. Theresa has a boyfriend, Randy, who she fights with, then breaks up with, then gets back together with on a somewhat regular basis, but everyone is pretty much used to the pattern. Only this time is different.

There's a party at a friend's house and Randy tells Theresa he's bringing somone else. In retaliation, Theresa invites her neighbor, James to be her date to the party. James is a few years older, good looking and is infatuated with Theresa, which does make her a little uneasy about the situation. Theresa's plan to make Randy jealous works, maybe a little too well. At the party, James walks in on the two of them 'making up' and takes off on his motorcycle. That is the last time anyone sees James.

In the months following the accident, Theresa makes decisions based on the blame she puts on herself for being responsible for what happened. First, she tries to cope through a journal she keeps at the insistence of her therapist. She chronicles her feelings and actions, although not really thinking it would do much good. Then she tries re-inventing herself and her life. Guilt does funny things to people and we all handle it very differently and she is very matter of fact at how she punishes herself for that guilt.

During her time of self-punishment she meets Cathy, an 11 year old girl who has a tragic story of her own and the two form an odd sort of bond. As much as Theresa tries to separate herself from people, she is pulled into helping this young girl. The result is that in trying to help Cathy, Theresa is able to face her own demons and deal with the fall-out of her own choices with the help of someone unexpected.

I've never read a book quite like this. It's daunting and sad to see how Theresa punishes herself for not realizing the power she had over James and for not being careful with his heart before it was too late. As a result of that neglect, she feels undeserving of anyone's love because she was wreckless with his feelings. At first, I didn't care much for the character of Theresa simply for that reason, but as I kept reading, I realized that's how young people are in many cases. Theresa was so consumed by her relatonship with Randy, she didn't consider anything else. If I'm honest, I could say I can relate to that. When I was a teenager, I probably acted much the same way.

THE DAY I KILLED JAMES is an interesting read that moves quickly and makes you want to keep turning to the next page. Parts of the book are her actual journal entries which make it very real and insightful to her feelings. The writing is direct and at times a bit raw, which makes it all the more convincing. I did find it difficult to accept the circumstances surrounding Cathy, the young girl Theresa befriends. Probably because my childhood was drastically different than hers and I didn't want to believe situations like that exist. But my feelings about it didn't take away from the story at all.

I feel that THE DAY I KILLED JAMES is a realistic account of what could happen in young lives if they are oblivious to others around them. Maybe not exactly the same way the story played out, but certainly there are lessons that could be learned. Theresa's story could play an important role in teaching young adults about being aware of choices and consequences. Although tragic, this could be a learning experience for young readers.
If you'd like to learn more about Catherine Ryan Hyde and her other books, please visit http://www.cryanhyde.com/ or check out her My Space page here.
Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Published: May 2008
Pages: 217
Rating: 3.75 (Recommended)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds pretty intense. I am hosting a giveaway which may be of interest to you. You can find out more information here:


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