Printz Honor winner and William Morris Award finalist Jessie Ann Foley’s latest YA novel is a comitragic coming-of-age story about an awkward teenage guy who, after the loss of his brother, finds healing and a sense of self where he least expected to.
As the youngest of eight, painfully average Pup Flanagan is used to flying under the radar. He’s barely passing his classes. He lets his longtime crush walk all over him. And he’s in no hurry to decide on a college path. The only person who ever made him think he could be more was his older brother Patrick, the family’s golden child. But that was before Patrick died suddenly, leaving Pup with a family who won’t talk about it and acquaintances who just keep saying, “sorry for your loss.”
But when Pup excels at a photography assignment he thought he’d bomb, things start to come into focus. His dream girl shows her true colors. An unexpected friend exposes Pup to a whole new world, right under his nose. And the photograph that was supposed to show Pup a way out of his grief ultimately reveals someone else who is still stuck in their own. Someone with a secret regret Pup never could have imagined.
The inspiration for this book came partially from a piece I read about Leonard Cohen's final press conference before his death in 2016. When asked by a reporter about where he drew his inspiration from, Cohen gave this beautiful answer about how we create art as a way of articulating the emergency inside of us. I have been in love with that notion ever since.
I decided that I wanted my main character, Pup, to be a kid who is experiencing a serious emergency inside of himself, and who, because of who he is and the kind of family he comes from, has no way of articulating it. I wanted his discovery of photography to arrive like a life raft. I wanted him to fall in love with art, and in doing so, find a way to articulate his emergency and help him begin to heal.
Thank you so much for picking up this book and giving it a chance! xo JAF
“Find a way to articulate the emergency inside you”—Mr. Hughes
“So, this is just a part of my nature, and I think everybody else’s nature, to offer oneself at the critical moment when the emergency becomes articulate. It’s only when the emergency becomes articulate that we can locate that willingness to serve”—Leonard Cohen
“As we descend into the deep, the pressure increases relentlessly, and the light from above all but disappears. And yet there is life”—David Attenborough, Blue Planet II (the wonderful epigraph for Sorry for Your Loss)
“Sorry for your loss” is the kind of the thing that most of us say when we don’t know what else to say to others facing the death of someone close. Saying “sorry for your loss” isn’t necessarily a bad thing to say (though I am going to try to avoid saying it for a while if I can!), but it can be a replacement for actually speaking to someone more directly in order to actually help them to heal.
One of eight Flanagan children from an Irish Catholic upper north side Chicago family, Patrick wanted to be an oceanographer, exploring the abyssopelagic zones of the world’s oceans, but he died of meningitis while away at college. Grief, as Foley points, is an individual process; it always does some damage, but people handle it in different ways: They try to deny it, to erase the fact of the pain; they never move on; they drink. Each member of the Flanagan family handles the griefless than usefully. The main character of this story is the youngest child, James, also known as Pup; what part does Patrick’s death play in how poorly he performs in school, and what part of it is test anxiety or some related disability?
James meets Izzy who has also lost a brother, in their high school Bereavement Group (or Pity Party), working with a school counselor. In his grief, sensing a connection, he attaches himself to her, and she in some ways to him, but when he falls in love with her, she does not fall in love with him. He is basically flunking out of school, but when his drunken brother Luke is falling apart, he takes a photograph of him passed out. He’s committed to saving Luke, and changing his family to become more open and supportive of each other.
Art teacher Mr. Hughes helps him see the value of art in the role of healing. This reminds me of the art-as-healing in other YA books such as Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. In the process he meets Abrihet (She who brings light), and they connect. I like some of the references in the book to Madame Bovary which help us understand the Izzy-Abrihet contrast.
I loved, loved, loved the connections to Leonard Cohen and the phrase “articulate the emergency inside you.” This is what James learns to do, and what he tries to help Luke and the rest of his family do. A great YA book about grief. Jessie Ann attended one of my classes recently and shared that the first draft of the book was a comedy of sorts about a boy with test anxiety, an issue she was familiar with as a former high school English teacher. One strength of this wonderful book is that (ala Hemingway’s iceberg theory of meaning) the basic foundation of this book is actually comedy, not tragedy, as there are a lot of funny lines and a commitment to family to better prepare us for dealing head-on with the grief.
I also loved (also making me think of Schmidt's Okay for Now) that the book is organized into seven sections, each focused on seven elements of artistic composition: Shape, like, space, form, texture, value and color. As with the idea of "depth"—oceanic and emotional—that frames the story of "Flanland" in the epigraph and throughout, these elements require you to rethink the action in each section in terms of its corresponding element. Cool?!
Full disclosure: Jessie Ann was a student in my English education program several years ago, though she was never in one of my classes. She has since visited my classes multiple times as an author. I have given what I believe to be fair reviews now of all three of her books, all of which are set in Chicago, including Neighborhood Girls and The Carnival at Bray (which is also set in Bray, Ireland). The September 2019 visit was a special occasion for me in that the visit coincided with two other graduates of my program, Sarah Donovan (Alone Together) and Claudia Martinez (The Smell of Old Lady Perfume).
Sorry For Your Loss was such an exquisite portrait of a family caught in the throes of grief. The emotions, at times, were so palpable, I actually found myself rubbing my chest, because my heart physically ached.
Pup, my dear sweet Pup. As the youngest of the Flanagan clan, he was often overlooked. You had the sister moms, his older sisters, who were so much older than him, they never even lived under the same roof. And, then there was the second wave of kids - Annemarie, Patrick, and Luke. Though Pup enjoyed a closer bond with his three younger siblings, there was only one, who really saw him - Patrick, which was why Patrick's death was such a profound loss for him.
Pup was floundering in his grief, and continuing to let all these people in his life sort of treat him as an after thought. But, then he got a little nudge, and that push Pup needed came from an unlikely source. After almost a year of trying different artistic mediums, Pup's teacher put a camera in his hands, and Pup was able to finally find his voice. It was really wonderful the way he was able to see things and share his feelings and pain via his art. I loved that this was part of his story for many reasons. One, because I really wanted Pup to find his thing. Two, because the drama with his unrequited love was awful, and he needed something to feel good about. Three, because it brought Abrihet into his life, and she was phenomenal for him.
This was definitely the story of Pup's coming of age, but it was also about family. The Flanagans were stuck in their grief. Some seemed ok, but many were suffering and dealing with the loss in unhealthy ways. It was Pup, with his newfound voice, who pushed the family to take those steps towards "getting through". Some of the things he was forced to do were excruciating, but necessary. His family may have been very avoidant, but the one thing they didn't lack was love for each other, and there was a lot of warmth in this story because of it.
I was so touched and impressed by this book, I immediately went to the library to check out more books by Foley. She did such a beautiful job painting these characters and crafting their story, and I know I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take this journey with Pup and his family.
As much as I liked the writing, I had a hard time finding the direction of the story, or the point. It was as if the story had an identity crisis. I enjoyed the characters, but some parts were unnecessarily over dramatic and the main character remained out of focus. The end (if you can call it that) was anticlimactic. More of a 2.5 stars, I'm rounding up to 3.
Sorry For Your Loss is an interesting YA book about grief that has a lot of elements that I haven’t previously seen in a book for this age range. Pup Flanagan is the youngest of eight siblings with a 27 year age gap between him and his oldest sister. One of his older brothers, Patrick, died three years ago but the family as a whole never truly worked through their grief together.
I thought it was interesting to have this book set years after Patrick’s death to show how grief isn’t something that just happens in the immediate aftermath of a death. There’s an emphasis in the book about Pup continually going to a bereavement group and working through all the frustrating reactions that other people can have when they learn about his brother’s death.
Because Pup has such a large family and the majority of his adult siblings don’t live at home most of them blend together and there’s not a super clear sense of them as individuals. I wish that more time was spent truly fleshing out the full family. There was a romance that Pup has with a girl in his class, and while it was nice enough I feel like it wasn’t totally necessary. If the time spent on that was shifted towards more of the family dynamic I think the book could’ve been stronger.
I definitely recommend this book, I think it says a lot of interesting things about the grieving process.
Gritty and deeply emotional, Sorry For Your Loss is, unsurprisingly, about grief. But it’s also about love, brothers, big drive-you-crazy families, finding your voice and learning to remember while also letting go. With an honest and realistic teen male protagonist, Sorry For Your Loss will appeal to older teen readers who enjoy moving books.
Pup is the youngest of eight. His family has been floundering, silently, since the death of one of his older brothers. Parents and siblings who won’t speak about Patrick, a brother who is losing himself to alcohol and Pup himself who is sinking - in his classes, his relationships and in the deafening silence at home. When his art teacher hands him a camera in the desperate hopes he can redeem his failing art grade, Pup is presented with a whole new lens with which to view the world, and maybe even the chance to bring his family together again.
I really loved Pup. The youngest of eight, plus uncle many times over, he knows the chaos of a big family. He also knows his place. But as he witnesses the decline of his family through grief and struggles with his own sadness, Pup has to challenge what he thought he knew about his parents, siblings and even himself. Pup has such a realistic and down-to-earth voice. He narrates the story and readers are welcomed into his world. He is 100% teen guy, but also one of those awkward, nice ones who doesn’t quite fit into his body and certainly hasn’t worked out how to talk to girls or why they would want to talk to him.
Relationships, school, family - Pup is facing it all, from old friendships and stagnant crushes coming to an end to the blossoming of a new romance, and reconciliation and understanding his siblings. And maybe even passing art.
Sorry For Your Loss is a wonderful YA title that explores grief, family and finding your place. It will appeal to readers of all genders with its honest and raw narration, diverse characters and heartwarming story.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Find more reviews, reading age guides, content advisory, and recommendations on my blog Madison's Library
Printz Honor winner Jessie Ann Foley's newest novel Sorry for Your Loss might turn some readers away with its heavy title, but I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for realistic insight into the teen experience. Foley introduces her readers to Pup Flanagan, an extremely relatable protagonist who is not, at first sight, exceptional in any way. His grades are regrettable, his plans for the future are nonexistent and his life experiences do not go far beyond the boundaries of his extensive Irish-Catholic family. His mind finds it difficult to focus on anything besides the Chicago Cubs, his out-of-his-league friend, Izzy, and his recently deceased older brother, Patrick. Patrick's death rocked Pup's family to their core, but they never talk about his passing. Pup's only outlet for discussing Patrick is his bereavement group at school which he refers to as the "Pity Party," but that all changes when his talented classmate, Abrihet, agrees to help Pup with his photography assignment which will determine whether or not he fails his art class. An extensive photography project just might be the means by which Pup feels closer to Patrick, but his family still struggles in their own unique ways. Pup is determined to bring Patrick back into focus which he believes is the only way to heal their broken family. Foley's uplifting and inspiring novel includes mature teen topics and will appeal to readers who enjoyed City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum and Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. – Christina B.
Jessie Ann Foley blew me away with this story--truly, the warmth, humor, and sincerity will enfold you like a much-needed hug, and baby, does it FLOW. The narrative is so friendly and inclusive that you literally can't put it down until you've made sure that all of your beloved Flanagan clan are going to be okay in the end. Right from Chapter 1, Pup Flanagan had my love forever; he is such a real teenage boy, gangly legs and all, so earnest and bursting with untapped potential. This is the kind of book which should be taught in schools, advertised in all major publications and news outlets, and pushed hard by the publisher to get it into the hands of every reader, because it makes you want to be a better person. To face the world with an open heart and mind, to forgive your loved ones for not being perfect and sometimes failing you. I just finished the last page, and now I'm crying again, so I'll sign off--but do yourself a favor and read this one. Then share it with everybody you know.
A straightforward story that touches on undealt with grief and loss. I love how therapy plays such a crucial part of the story and how many teen boy tropes are expertly navigated. Plus, I appreciated how art was used as a tool of healing.
Some moments I struggled to connect with, which is why this wasn't a total homerun for me. But I absolutely enjoyed this story overall.
The death of Pup's brother leaves his family in a total mess. Everyone copes his/her own way and brushes this devastating event under the rug pretending it never happened, that there never was an extra sibling. Due to an art-project Pup starts to see his family in a different perspective and his view through the lens of a camera brings his family back together.
This is definitely not your standard kind of YA-story. Yes, it's about a 17-year old underdog who has a crush, who gets rejected, falls in love. But that is so not what this story is about. If that what you'll retain from this book, than you didn't get the message. It's about family dynamics, unconditional love, coping with grief, guilt and self-hatred, finding a way to yourself and the people who you love, protecting and expressing yourself, standing up for your beliefs and coming together. I might had some doubts in the beginning, because the beginning is quiet slow. You first need to understand the family dynamics and what happened. But the evolution of Pup/James' character is so evident and the ending so strong and visual, it took me a moment to gather my wits.
Wow. This gem is hidden in a YA book and flying way under the radar. Pup is 27 years younger than his oldest sister, there are 8 siblings all together. 3 boys and 5 girls, when the middle son contracts and dies of meningitis in college the rest of the family tailspins replacing his high school graduation photo on the stairway, never speaking on his name, and never grieving together. All 30 family members live super close together and their togetherness should offer healing but instead it's severely disjointed. As Pup tries mourning on his own close friends distance themselves, new friends appear and an art class changes everything. Written in parts about focus, light, framing, background, color and more the theme shines in this book and you are instantly connected to Pup and his family, in spirit, motivation, and emotion!
4.5 stars--this was so good. I love that the premise of the story is based on Leonard Cohen saying art is a way to articulate the emergency inside us--and that a YA book even exists with a reference to Leonard Cohen! I also love a story about family dynamics. Pup was such a lovable character as the baby in this huge family, and the way the story unfolds for him to find his voice in the chaos of that huge family in the end is so great!
Sorry for Your Loss is Pup’s coming of age story. Every bildungsroman features a character that faces challenges, but Pup suffers more challenges than most. This poor guy is trying to discover himself while being the oops baby in the very large, working middle class, suburban Chicago Flanagan family. As the youngest of eight siblings (seven years separate him from his next youngest sibling), Pup has always felt loved but under the radar. The entire, huge family (the sibs, the sibs-in-law, the nephews and nieces) have Sunday dinner every single week. EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. Pup says family vacations are planned around Sunday dinner. In his seventeen years of life, Pup has never missed a Sunday dinner. This is the kind of family we’re talking about. Except they are a grieving family that doesn’t grieve. And instead of eight siblings, there are now seven. It’s been almost three years since Patrick died, but no one talks about it. Each is left to grieve in his or her own way, sometimes with disastrous results. Pup’s manner of grieving is to stay invisible and inwardly boil over the image of the fat, cherubic, baby angel his mother used to replace Patrick’s 8th-grade graduation picture on the wall of the Flanagan children’s 8th-grade graduation pictures. It’s through his unexpected gift in photography, his new friendship with fellow photographer and North African immigrant, Abrihet, and, eventually, therapy, that Pup begins to find his own identity and truly, properly, and healthily grieve his brother.
As a longtime high school librarian who devours 200 YA books per year, I have read plenty of books that include dead family members. These books have become more poignant for me after losing my mother three years ago. Something I’ve noticed since then that I don’t know ever really resonated with me before is just how differently people grieve. Read the rest of my review on the Librarians Lit Books blog! https://www.librarianslitbooks.com/si...
This book hurt a little. Hurt a lot? Grief is this crazy, tricky beast. It’s different for everyone, and when you’re in the midst of it, it’s easy to start judging the way everyone around you is handling it. “They’re moving on too quickly. They’re not even acknowledging it. They’re letting it consume them too much.” You find yourself weighing how the loss affected you against how it’s affected others. Pup has a huge family, and all of them are handling the loss of his brother Patrick, in different ways. And this book did an excellent job of capturing that.
There’s also an extended metaphor for grief at the end of the book that is just so, so perfect in a lot of ways and I was very tempted to just quote that as my entire review but I only have access to the ARC version right now as I’m writing this, so you’ll just have to trust me that it is a perfect payoff in an already beautiful done book.
T/W: alcoholism. The synopsis didn’t prepare me for it, so heads up that it’s a big part of the book.
Aku itu sangat menyukai jika cerita fiksi yg berisi drama keluarga apapun. . . . . .
Pertama kalinya aku membaca buku karya Jessie Ann Foley, walopun isinya terlalu byk deskripsi terkadang ad bbrp bagian kulewati jg tp bukunya bnr2 menguras emosi buatku, aku menyukai di bagian Pup sdg mempelajari fotografi dg teman baru, Abby atas suruhan guru seninya, komunikasi mrk begitu bersahabat dan hangat. Kemudian di bagian dimana Pup sdg memperbaiki komunikasi keluarganya dan Luke yg penuh penyesalan terhadap saudaranya yg meninggal.
4.5 stars. I seem to be picking up quite a few books this summer with themes of grief and forgiveness. Foley does an excellent job of portraying the impact grief has on individuals as well as family units. I loved watching this family grow as individuals as well as a unit throughout the novel. And......I am always a sucker for books set in Chicago that really embrace the city and its traditions. This is an excellent book that I highly recommend!
I loved this book. Not only because it was set in Chicago and I adored the references to the Cubs winning the WS and also the players that I love, but also the U of I references and part of the setting in Champaign. However, it was the family dynamics that got me and pulled on my heart strings. A quick read and i will definitely check out others by this local author.
I liked this a lot. I think its plot is a little bit hook-ier than Neighborhood Girls--youngest of 8 kids copes with grief while also being massively neglected by his big, grieving family and overlooked as an underachiever at school, and finally manages to express himself via photography. But like Neighborhood Girls and before it The Carnival at Bray, I think Foley just excels at explorations of grief, particularly non-romantic grief (versus the common tragic romance books). The voice here is really strong and compelling.
I also think the sudden, unexpected death of a college student via meningitis is a storyline that's probably going to resonate even more in these pandemic times.
I've read SO many books about grief that I expected this one to be just another run-of-the-mill novel about loss. In some ways, it is, in that it's about a family who has experienced a tragedy and the different ways in which they deal with it. In other ways, it's not. At its core, SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS is actually about being seen, something Pup struggles with as the youngest in a big family, the average student in a clan of achievers, and the quiet, steady friend who puts up with being taken advantage of. It's impossible not to root for him as he finally finds his voice and takes a stand. I loved him as a character. The depiction of the Flanagan family is actually my favorite part of this novel. They're a loud, messy brood and that rings with authenticity for me since I also come from a large family. In fact, everything about this story rang true to me, which is probably why I FELT it so deeply. It's not all serious, though - there are some funny parts. All in all, it's a thoughtful, well-balanced novel that gave me all the feels.
I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump for awhile - reading, but the books I was reading were just okay, not the kind of books you’d stay up late to read, or to sneak a few minutes between tasks to get a chapter in. And then came Sorry For Your Loss, by Jessie Ann Foley.
Sorry For Your Loss follows Pup (which is a nickname; his real name is James) and his huge family of 26 - he is the last of 8 brothers and sisters. The story follows Pup as he tries to come to grips with life a few years after his brother Patrick suddenly passed away. Pup’s family isn’t one to talk about uncomfortable things, and so Patrick’s name is never mentioned, and his high school graduation photo on the wall going up the stairs was replaced by an image of a baby angel. And because Patrick’s never mentioned, everyone in the family deals with his death on their own, leading often to catastrophic results. Pup seems doomed to a life of mediocrity as he numbly fights his way through life, but then one teacher, Mr. Hughes, his art teacher, takes a chance on him and one stunning photograph he’d taken. And in this one chance, Pup’s life begins to change.
Jessie Ann Foley is masterful with words and in immersing you in the lives of her characters. They feel so real. This made the experience of living with Pup for a bit feel like a delicious dip in someone else’s world for a while.
Thank you to Edelweiss and HarperTeen for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
LOVED this one! This was very cool--a story of how art can help and heal, a story of family and what it means to us. Loved the whole thing, but you WILL ugly cry. One of the better YA novels I've ever read.
The plot and the main character felt very reminiscent of John Green's work and overall it had a very old-school YA feel to it, but in the best way possible. It still ended up feeling fresh and not overdone for me. I loved the overall message and the ending with Luke made me cry.
5 stars are not enough for this beautiful gem!!!! Read in one lonely afternoon and be greatful to experience something so real, painful, beautiful and perfect. Everyone should read this, please do a favor to yourself and grab a copy.