Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Million Little Snowflakes by Logan Byrne

* * * 1/2

Oliver Hurst has always been abnormally normal.

His grades are horrible, his best friend just left for Utah, and he's depressed. His overly religious parents don’t help, especially since they control every facet of his life. One stupid sentence said in desperation gets Oliver tossed in an adolescent psych ward, where his depression and fears become even more of a reality.

When Oliver meets snide, tough girl Lacey Waters he doesn't think his life could get any better, that is, until she becomes the ray of sunshine he has desperately needed on his cloudiest of days.

BiblioJunkie Nat and I have occasional conversations about the impact of religion on our lives and how we perceive it as adults with families of our own which is why A Million Little Snowflakes appealed to me.

It’s painfully clear how Oliver’s ├╝ber-religious mother controls her children. Any wayward move, no matter how innocent, means church counseling. Sometimes even worse. In this particular case, all he does is mention that he’s been feeling depressed lately and she takes him to the pastor who begins to perform an exorcisim on him.  Apparently the devil needs to be driven from his body. Oliver views all of this as unhelpful nonsense. At dinner, in a desperate attempt to deflect attention away from his poor SAT results he's been hiding, he blurts out that he wants to kill himself. It’s absolutely not true and it’s not exactly the brightest thing to say. To deal with this his dad immediately checks him into a psych ward.

As bizarre as it is at first, it becomes a mini vacation for him to be away from his stifling household. He’s finally able to think clearly about where he’s at in his life. Getting to know the kids who are in there with him offers him the chance to see that plenty of other kids come from dysfunctional situations as well. Lacey especially captures his attention because she’s the complete opposite of him. She initially despises him but warms up to him as she realizes that she would also like something different.

Oliver is remarkably introspective. Instead of seeing his stay at the psych ward as a negative, irrational move on behalf of his parents, he sees it as a mental respite from his home life. He finally has a chance to freely voice his own opinions as when he’s in one-on-one sessions with the psychiatrist. While I didn’t like the automatic prescribing of pills which it didn’t appear that Oliver needed, I did like that he was given the space to think aloud.

As a protagonist, Oliver is one of the nice guys. He’s not a rebel, at least not in the normal terms though his church would see it otherwise. He’s simply a teenage boy who wants personal space and the ability to speak for himself. He needs his parents to recognize that and accept him for it. Oliver’s opposition to his mother’s ultra-religious thinking causes a major rift. That is perhaps one of the main points of the story – acceptance. How should acceptance work and on whose terms? And if there are terms, can it truly be considered acceptance?

Logan Byrne’s novel undoubtedly gave me plenty to think and he did so without involving too much melodrama. I will say the ending caught me off guard slightly even though I was waiting for something to happen. I gasped and then thought, “Really? That’s how this ends?”. Don’t worry though because it doesn’t take away from how wonderful this story is.

~ Bel

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