TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Am I the only one who judges a book by its cover? I did here, and, to be honest, I wasn't quite sure what to make of "This is What I Did," what with its ugly pea green cover and spare white outline of a young boy in a baseball cap. Flipping through the book, I immediately noticed that instead of chapters, the story is divided into short sections composed primarily of dialogue. Cool, I thought, I'm all for a fast read! What was really interesting was that each section was separated from the others by a stark black graphic image. These included such apparently dissimilar icons as E.T., a DNA double helix, a shovel, a fly, an overturned bicycle, a sleeping bag, an elliptical machine, and, yeah, Peter Pan.
Hrm, what to make of this, I thought. So random! But I'll give author Ann Dee Ellis credit, because all these odd images relate directly back to her story of 8th grade outcast Logan. See, Logan is keeping a huge, shameful secret involving some type of awful incident with his former best friend Zyler and his pretty neighbor Cami. All we know now is that Logan is a bullied loner and the victim of cruel pranks and rumors by a group of his classmates. He's severely disconnected from his folks and younger twin brothers, and his only meaningful contact with his peers revolves around sharing palindromes (words or phrases that are spelled the same front and back) with the eccentric actress Laurel.
The mystery of Logan's secret unfolds as he recounts Scout hazing, the old days with Zyler, school play rehearsals, and psychologist visits. Logan mixes events in the past and present, merging them together in a detached way that keeps the reader constantly guessing about what happened. While this is an effective tactic for a mystery or psychological drama — everyone loves suspense, right? — it unfortunately keeps Logan forever beyond the reader's reach. I had the hardest time empathizing with this empty boy. While I understand that Logan's blankness reflects his inability to cope with his past, for far too much of the novel he is almost completely devoid of genuine emotions, wishes, and regrets. As a character, he remains much like that blank outline on the book's cover.
"This is What I Did" is by no means a bad novel, and it is short, serious, and engaging. I just think there are better middle school books on either bullying (going all the way back to Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate War") or the destructive power of secrets (E.L. Konigsburg's "Silent to the Bone" comes immediately to mind). If you give this book a shot, please let us know what you think.