“An artful exercise in melancholy…Every reader will love openhearted Will.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Haunting, introspective.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Emotionally raw…[A] piercing narrative.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“McGhee artfully illustrates the tangled web wherein grief intertwines with the mundane.” —BCCB
After his dad dies of suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this exquisitely crafted story made up of one hundred chapters of one hundred words each, by award-winning and bestselling author Alison McGhee.
Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.
When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread.
In this spare, emotionally raw novella, the deeply thoughtful 16-year-old narrator, Will, vainly tries to recreate his father's cornbread recipe, and he walks through L.A. neighborhoods while his mom works overnight at the hospital. In finely honed chapters, each introduced by a Chinese character, McGhee (Never Coming Back) crafts a slim cast of strongly sketched individuals, including Will's socially awkward boss at the Dollar Only store, his childhood friend Playa, and Mrs. Lin, who operates a Chinese blessings store. The narrative gradually reveals the troubles Will seeks to walk off. "Sometimes the right route is the route not past other places, places you maybe love but can't walk by right now. Like Playa's house. Like the blessings store. Like the river bridge over Fourth Street." McGhee skillfully evokes sense memory, as Will attempts to find solace in his nighttime wanderings. Ultimately, the piercing narrative offers an affirmation of remaining connected to others through loss as Will embraces his relationships and begins to heal. Ages 14 up.