Torn Away

17 Mar

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Torn Away by Jennifer Brown was one of the books that sucked me in and didn’t want to turn loose (pardon the pun). From the opening page, I was hooked. Who can’t relate to a pesky little sister bugging you when all you want to do is watch TV? But using past tense “I loved my little sister” and reading the publisher’s synopsis of the book made me realize that this book would be full of regret.

I actually considered not reading it when I got my advanced readers copy from NetGalley. There’s so much depressing stuff going on in the world right now, I didn’t need any more tear-jerkers. I told myself I would just read a couple of pages, that’s all. But I found myself devouring the book. Having lived in Chicago for half my life and in Phoenix for the other half, I knew all about tornadoes. I knew about the tornado alarms. I knew about going into the basement. I knew about opening the windows a bit so your roof wouldn’t get sucked off (at least, that’s what they told us when we were kids). But I couldn’t remember actually being in a tornado. We don’t have them in Arizona, although we do have other bad weather experiences. When I teach the tornado section of my curriculum to my science classes, I always kind of fake it. Now I don’t have to. My students are going to have Torn Away on their reading list for next year.

Jersey survives her run-in with the tornado. Not everyone else in her town, in her school, in her family is as lucky. Jersey’s description of what it is like to be in a tornado is uncanny. (Since I have not had that experience I asked someone who had. They said her description was spot-on.) This description is a perfect way to get my students to really understand not only the physiological impacts of the tornado on the body (the sound, the ear pressure, the hair-raising electricity, the smell) but also the psychological effects. If Jersey was not a real person before the tornado, she came alive after it. Her struggle to meet basic human needs – shoes, food, water, a bathroom – made me want to go and find her and bring her here so that she could be taken care of.

After the tornado, amid the chaos and destruction, Jersey is a lone, lost soul. She is sent to live with a father she never knew (along with the wicked stepmother and ugly step-sisters) and later with grandparents she didn’t know any better. She’s tougher I first thought. Through it all she learns much about her mother, her biological dad, and a lot about herself. She redefines the word family. Just like I have learned family is not just the people who share your blood, they are the people who share your love so does Jersey learn the meaning of the word “family”. (In my family we say that genes are inhaled.)

When we hear that someone lost everything as a result of a tragedy out in most cases, something is gained too.

For a long time I have been searching for a book like Torn Away for my science classes. I wanted some good, scientifically accurate fiction that is be entertaining, will teach a life lesson and keep all of the science straight. Torn Away by Jennifer Brown hit the target again and again. I can’t wait for it to come out in print on May 6, 2014.

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