Sara's Reviews > Swallowing Stones

Swallowing Stones by Joyce McDonald
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May 22, 2008

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bookshelves: young-adult, fiction
Recommended for: 9th-12th grade
Read in April, 2007

On his seventeenth birthday, Michael receives a Winchester rifle as a gift from his grandfather. He and his friend Joe take it out into the woods behind his house and shoot it into the air in celebration.

Across town, an innocent man who is fixing his roof is struck in the head by the bullet and dies instantly. His teenage daughter, Jenna, is witness to this tragic accident.

This is an interesting and compelling story, made more so by McDonald's narrative style. The chapters of the book alternate between the perspective of Michael and Jenna. Each has their own knowledge of the incident and as the book progresses more and more clues are exposed as the two grow closer together.

A nice feature of this book is the realistic, age-appropriate characters and relationships. Jenna and her boyfriend have trouble when Jenna suddenly begins having panic attacks whenever he's around. Michael is so wrapped up in his guilt over what he's done that he alienates his girlfriend. Joe's occasional beer at a summer party increases to a drinking problem. The secret of who fired the gun expands like a balloon filled with guilt and lies.

There is also an element of magic realism to the book, as both Michael and Jenna are drawn together by visions of a "ghost tree" with powerful spiritual energy.

Overall, "Swallowing Stones" is an excellent picture of how tragedy affects those who are left behind. It also gives a glimpse into the guilt surrounding one who feels responsible for a tragic accident. These themes are effectively delivered through realistic teenage characters, making this a solid young adult novel.
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