Jordan Sonnenblick is an eighth grade English teacher who has emerged as a writer of young adult fiction with a bite. Sonnenblick got his beginning as a writer in high school, actually Frank McCourt's creative writing class at Stuyvesant High School. McCourt, the author of Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, and Teacher Man, apparently recognized some potential in Sonnenblick because he was allowed to attend McCourt's already full creative writing class. Once there, Sonnenblick developed as a humor writer but McCourt prodded him to try his hand at deeper, more intimate writing. In the end, as a graduating senior, McCourt chose Sonnenblick as the winner of the school's annual creative writing award. For another fifteen years Sonnenblick would work on his writing as he attended college and went on to enter the teaching profession.
This includes ten years as a middle school English teacher at Phillipsburg Middle School in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. But Sonnenblick's entry into teaching came about through a less direct route than traditional college education training. Probably his first experience with kids was as a camp counselor. He also went on to work as a tutor in his mother's tutoring center. Because he had grown up around teaching and schools as part of his family life, traditional education courses seemed less useful than practical experience. The result of these experiences and this perspective is that Sonnenblick entered his first middle school classroom as a participant in the Teach for America program.
It required Sonnenblick's exposure to one student's trying to come to terms with the terminal illness of a sibling to set him firmly on the track of writing serious young adult fiction. Sonnenblick's first book grew out of his concern about one of his students. This girl had a little brother who was dying of cancer and at first Sonnenblick thought she seemed to be coping pretty well. Then he talked to the girl's mother and found out that what she was doing well at was hiding how things were for her from the adults. This set Sonnenblick on a mission to find a book that would speak to the girl's experiences in order to help her through it. When he found no such book, he then decided to write it himself.
Sonnenblick was determined to write a story that would not pander to kids, there would be no overdone or overused sentimentality but instead he would be truthful and accurate, even to the details of the disease. He felt he had to also incorporate the types of real experiences that a kid with a terminally ill brother or sister would really have. These include being complemented for heroically dealing with the situation when the complete opposite was true, trying to make a deal with God, the terrible reality of what undergoing chemotherapy is like, the strain everything puts on the family finances and relationships, and so on.
In the end, Sonnenblick was able to produce the sort of book he intended. When he had finished the book he found a publisher in a small literary press, DayBue Publishing, which went out of business just three weeks after the book was released. It turns out though that advance reading copies circulated to libraries and reviewers and initial orders for the book, about one thousand copies, had been enough to start a buzz about it. His first book, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie (2004), was nominated for a Fall 2004 Book Sense Children's Award as well as an American Library Association 2005 Best Books for Young Adults Award just a few days after the original publisher closed their doors. In order for the book to remain eligible for these awards, it had to be available to bookstores and reviewers. Because of this, Sonnenblick arranged to have the book self-published under the publishing name Turning Tide Press. The growing critical attention the book received attracted Scholastic Books which initially picked up distribution rights for the book and then made the decision to offer a contract to Sonnenblick to reissue this book plus publish his next novel. Since thin Sonnenblick has written two more young adult novels, Notes From The Midnight Driver (2006) and Zen And The Art Of Faking It (2007).
Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie (2004)
This book was of course Sonnenblick's debut novel, as noted above, and it had a less than typical publishing history. It is about a thirteen-year-old boy who is living a relatively average teenage life and who has a annoying five year old little brother. Everything changes for him though when his little brother is diagnosed with leukemia. The family relationships and finances are strained and the main character struggles to maintain so that no one at school will notice. The story honestly and creatively describes the progression of the young teen's anxieties as his brother's illness and the treatment for it go on. All while trying to deal with the more normal routine of school dances, drumming solos, and crushes.
Notes From The Midnight Driver (2006)
Sonnenblick's second novel is about a young teenager having to come to terms with the breakup of his parents' marriage. At the beginning of the story his parents have separated and his father is dating his former third grade teacher. In a fit of frustration when his mother goes out on her first date after the breakup, he gets into his parents' liquor cabinet, gets drunk, runs off with his mother's car to go tell his Dad what he really thinks of him, and ends up wrecked in a neighbor's yard. The judge, for the criminal infractions, sends the young man out to perform one hundred hours of community service at a local nursing home. There he meets a difficult, crotchety, eccentric old man who, through their mutual interest in the guitar, becomes his mentor and friend. In the end, the friendship enables the young man to grow beyond the ways of a child and learn to take responsibility for his own actions.
Zen And The Art Of Faking It (2007)
His third book continues Sonnenblick's ascendancy to recognition as a writer of quality literary fiction for teens. The main character of this story is an eighth grader who has just moved into a new town. This has happened many times before and instead of struggling to make new friends he decides to create a new identity for himself. The initial question is what will he be? On the first day in the new school the idea comes to him in his World History class. When he answers too many questions on Zen in class, courtesy of a previous Ancient Religions class in a previous school, he decides that he should present himself as a Zen master. He then sets off to establish his Zen master identity by sitting 'zazen' on a rock near school each morning, passing on pieces of supposed Zen wisdom, and generally trying to get everyone at school to believe him. Things seem to be working and his life seems to be taking a major turn for the better when he becomes the friend of a folk-singing girl in his same grade. They set out to start a school project on Zen and become involved in some other after school projects, the result being that he falls for her in a big way. Unfortunately, lies have a way of catching up with you and in this case the result teaches important lessons about character.
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Jordan Sonnenblick, venturing into the deep waters of adolescence by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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