Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis
Ben Bright – popular senior, lead in the school musical opposite both his girlfriend Ariela and best friend Niko, the older son in a warmly bonded family of four – has a secret. Without telling his family and friends, he’s bypassed college and chosen the U.S. Army. “‘Ninety-nine percent of our friends are going off to college, and then what?'” he tries to make Ariela understand. “‘Finance? Law? Banking? That’s not a waste? People like us should volunteer – kids with privilege and skills and talent. So-called. I want to reach the end of my life and say, ‘I did something important. I saved lives.'”
Having initially volunteered for the Army reserve – “I’m not going to war,” he had insisted – shock turns to worry when Ben is deployed to Iraq. Less than three months after he leaves home, Ben is caught in an explosion: “Brains fold inward on themselves and then billow outward, soft as jellyfish. The precise electrochemical connections short-circuit – connections that control thought, smell, taste, touch, sight, sound, movement, memory. Connections that define what it means to be human. In a millisecond, that definition changes.” Ben Bright’s body survives, but his brain is forever changed; his journey back from TBI (traumatic brain injury) will be the most formidable fight of his life.
Winner in the teen category of the American Library Association‘s 2013 Schneider Family Book Awards which “honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences,” Somebody is a shattering, devastating read. In spite of its slim page count, the narrative is emotionally dense, weighted with impossible questions of patriotism, duty, hope, promise, and love; the consequences of Ben’s solo decision for his parents, brother, girlfriend, best friend, and even his fellow soldiers will reverberate forever.
Authors Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis speak directly to the generation right now in one of the most contemporary titles I’ve read to date, with nods to Glee and Taylor Swift. While I momentarily wonder if such details might make the book seem outdated sooner than later, as long as war looms somewhere in the world and teenagers for whatever reason decide to make that fight their own, the power of Somebody will not diminish. Graduation is fast approaching for millions of high school seniors … might I insist that Somebody would make an excellent addition to every gift list.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult