From Where I Stand by Tabitha Suzuma

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From Where I Stand by Tabitha Suzuma

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A tense psychological drama in which the exploration of grief and fragile mental health are probably more important than the unravelling of the mystery. It's heart-rending and beautifully handled.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: May 2007
Publisher: Bodley Head Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0370329062

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Raven is a deeply unhappy teenager. Fresh from a children's home, where he has been since he witnessed the death of his mother, Raven is taciturn, sullen, isolated. His new foster family, the Russells, are earnest, hopeful and kindly people, but they are up against the blank brick wall of Raven's alienation. They try their best, but they fear that reaching Raven and forming any real connection with him is going to be an uphill struggle. At his new school, the usual bullies make Raven's life the usual misery. He retreats to his room as often as he can. And once there, he finds his penknife and cuts his arms. This pain, heartbreakingly, is the only thing that makes the other pain even close to bearable.

And then Raven makes a friend. Together with Lotte, he sets out to put an end to his pain. If Raven can track down his mother's killer and expose him, he believes he'll be able to start his life again. If only it were that easy.

At one point, I had to put down From Where I Started because my eyes were full of tears. Much as I wanted to read on, the blurred page wouldn't let me. Suzuma put me right inside Raven's head - so busy with fear and hurt and confusion on the inside and so stony and impassive on the outside. I finished the book, far too late for my 42-year-old, have-to-be-up-to-make-breakfast bedtime, and crawled into bed with an indelible picture of the grief-paralysed, alienated Raven imprinted on my mind. As a portrait of a damaged adolescent struggling with his mental health, I found it sensitive, powerful and heartrending.

As a psychological thriller, it was perhaps slightly less successful - if the mystery is really what you're after. There are lots of clues and I'd guessed the truth behind Raven's mother's death fairly early on in the book. I'm notoriously slow at that kind of thing, so I don't think many youngsters over twelve would be far behind me. But I don't think it really matters either way. What matters is the clear-sighted patience in which Suzuma explains and unravels the mystery with honesty and care and gentle kindness, but without ever losing the pace and tension in the plotting. I thought the whole book was a remarkable achievement, and there are a whole bunch of adult writers in this popular psychological thriller market who could learn a lesson or two from it. There is an understanding of both character and crisis here that you don't find often.

Highly recommended for all sophisticated readers over twelve who enjoy contemporary settings, a realistic emotional landscape and strong, thrilling plotlines.

My thanks to the good people at Random House for sending the book.

Linda Newbery's Catcall also describes a child's struggle with mental health.

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