Review of “What My Mother Doesn’t Know”

Sones, Sonya.  What My Mother Doesn’t Know.  Simon & Schuster for Young Readers. 2001. ISBN:  0689841140

Sophie Stein is a teenage girl who has two best friends, Rachel and Grace.  She has a boyfriend named Dylan who is a good looking, popular boy, but the more she is around him, the more she loses interest.  She is independent and artistic and when she is in art class she notices Murphy, the most disliked kid at her school.  She strikes up a “relationship” with a guy named Chaz online who turns out to be a pervert.  Her mother and father fight a lot and her mother retreats downstairs to watch soaps and cry – something Sophie thinks about doing herself but refuses to allow herself to sink into that same predicament.  Instead, while her friends are away over break, she begins spending time with Murphy.  Finally she finds a true connection with a boy whom she really likes – even if no one at school does.

Vardell states, “A relatively new poetic form with roots in ancient epic poetry, the verse novel, or novel in verse is a form that is growing in popularity, particularly with middle school readers” (116).  I had run into novels in verse such as this when I taught middle and high school English.  Prose poetry novels, or Push Poetry was what it was referred to when I first heard of it.  I was really excited and confused by how an author could get published by writing a book in simple language, in broken sentences and just fragmented scenes.  But it was fascinating and I loved it.  I understand how this is really cool for teen readers.  I went on to read the continuing book through (Robin) Murphy’s point of view, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know.  Next I will read her other books because I really enjoy this type of YA novel.  I wonder how well it would translate into an adult fiction novel.

Booklist (Nov 1, 2001) reviews this book positively by saying, “The poetry is never pretentious or difficult; on the contrary, the very short, sometimes rhythmic lines make each page fly. Sophie’s voice is colloquial and intimate, and the discoveries she makes are beyond formula, even while they are as sweetly romantic as popular song. A natural for reluctant readers, this will also attract young people who love to read.”  I agree with the idea that this is great for reluctant readers.  Since both Sones’ books about Sophie and Murphy can be good for boys and girls it may be something that they could easily get through.  However, it is suggested that such books are use in “a promising trend and a fun format for dramatic read alouds” (Vardell 116).  I would never feel comfortable having students in public school read these aloud, especially with the sexual content.  I could, for the purposes to get students interested, read excerpts from the non-racy poems.  I think these types of books would be a great alternative for students who simply don’t like to read or feel intimidated by so many words on the page.

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