A week ago today, the ALA honored a wide range of books and other media for children and teens at the 2013 Youth Media Awards (watch the archived livecast). During this ceremony, the 2013 Schneider Family Book Award recipients were named.
Established in 2003 through a donation by Dr. Katherine Schneider and first given in 2004, this award “honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” Three books are selected each year and, generally, awards are given for teen, middle school and children’s books, though the committee does not have to honor a book in each of the three categories every year. Past winners in the teen category have included The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen in 2012 and Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John in 2011.
This year, Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis was honored in the teen category. In it readers meet Ben Bright just as he is preparing to take the stage for his high school’s production of West Side Story. A talented actor, singer, and student, everyone in his life from his best friend to his girlfriend to his teachers assume that nothing will stop him from greatness. But, rather than going off to college or heading to New York to audition, Ben has decided to enlist in the reserves to serve his country. It isn’t a decision he has made lightly, but is instead one based on principles; nevertheless he knows that no one will understand his decision and so he has kept it from those closest to him.
Though Ben initially tells everyone he won’t be going off to war because he is in the reserves, his unit is ultimately deployed to Iraq, which is where the story really takes off. While in Iraq, Ben is injured in an explosion that leaves him both physically and emotionally scarred. He suffers a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that steals his memory and leaves him struggling to speak and move. Readers also realize that his experiences in Iraq stay with him in other ways through an emotional scene at a grocery store when he has a flashback to the explosion. The authors not only portray Ben’s struggles with his injuries, but also show how his disability impacts his family and his friends, with his parents, his autistic brother, his best friend, and his fiancÃ©e all struggling with the situation in very different ways.
Told from multiple perspectives and through a mixture of correspondence, text messages, passages from Ben’s memory book, a school report, verse and traditional narration, the book captures how Ben and everyone in his life struggle in their own way to process and adjust to his injury. The authors are true to the slow and halting recovery process and succeed in ending the book on a positive note without succumbing to the temptation to give Ben a miraculous recovery. Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am is a short but powerful book that succeeds in portraying multiple examples of the disability experience.
For more on this book and other books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, see The Hub’s Veteran’s Day post from last November.
— Carli Spina, currently reading Also Known As by Robin Benway