Thoughts & Prayers – Bryan Bliss – Greenwillow Books – Published 29 September 2020
Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Except for the fact that a year ago, they all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher.
Now, each one copes with the trauma as best as they can as the world around them keeps moving. Thoughts and Prayers is a story about gun violence, but more importantly it is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy. It is the story of three unforgettable teens who feel forgotten.
Thank goodness for this book. It is beautiful, insightful, reflective, powerful and conveys so much with such a simple, non-preachy style. Three teenagers. Three separate stories. And yet their lives crossed for just a few moments on one fateful day under a school staircase.
Claire, Eleanor and Brezzen survived the school shooting that killed a teacher and fellow classmates. They have each continued their lives, coping with the trauma and fallout in their own ways.
Thoughts & Prayers starts with Claire and her story. Part one starts with Claire and her brother having made a new life after moving towns. Claire is about to start at a new school. Each morning, she and her brother escape to a local skating park after hours – it’s the only time Claire can move without thinking about everyone around her and constantly scanning the environment. She meets three guys at the park, Leg, God and Dark. They seem like they could become friends, they are supportive of her need for space, cope with her panic attacks. But as she spends more time with them, there seems to be something wrong, a little off, with Dark and Claire knows the risks of not speaking up. Claire has an intriguing story and it brings such a powerful message of how hard it is to do the right thing – to even know what the right thing is. She risks everything to speak out, just as she would risk everything by staying silent. Her story is also about the debilitating panic, fear and gamut of emotions that can occur after experiencing such a traumatic event.
Eleanor stars in part two of this book. She is strong and determined. After being the target of hate and vilification for months, she has taken a step back from actively calling for gun control. What started as a need to speak out and reflect her own anger and grief, a simple message on a simple t-shirt, her face, her story and her message were picked up as a message against guns and now the people who disagree with her have targeted and threatened her. She just wants it all to go away, so she can go back to her life, go out with her boyfriend, but the threats are becoming more active and the anger and the pain hasn’t gone away. Her story is about the anger. About speaking out and the pain that comes with doing so. It’s about the people around you not understanding and about taking the risks so that history doesn’t continue to repeat.
Brezzen also survived. He hasn’t returned to school since the event, has disconnected with his group of friends and instead homeschool and spends hours coordinating campaigns in role play games. When his parents suggest it is time to go back to school, Brezzen has to draw upon every ability and strength and magical object at his disposal to make it back onto the school grounds and face the teachers and students. His is a story of bravery, of learning to work with what you’ve got, to accept help and to reach out to others. It is such a positive reflection of therapy, of bravery. I loved Brezzen’s character, and see him reflected in so many of my students.
Can I just say, what an amazing cast of adults there is in this book. Aside from the media, and gun-pro idiots, and the naive principal (okay, so there are a lot of unsupportive or unequipped adults, too) each of our three main characters is surrounded by strong, supportive, amazing adults. It offers a spec of hope for humanity. Would that all survivors had such supportive, understanding brothers, parents, therapists and teachers in their lives. I loved that Bliss included these adults in the story.
This is an insightful story about trauma, recovery, surviving. It would be perfect as a class novel and addresses gun violence by looking at the aftermath the survivors face each and every day.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction
Themes: Schools, school shootings, guns, gun violence, friendship, therapy, trauma, family, relationships.
Reading age guide: Ages 13 and up.
Advisory: References to gun violence, threats. Frequent coarse language, f*** (65), sh** (108) bit** (2), pi** (12), as***** (4).
Published: 29 September 2020 by Greenwillow Books.
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 448 pages.