Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Behind You

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2004. BEHIND YOU. New York: Putnam. ISBN 039923988X [Suggested Grade Levels 8-12]

In this follow-up to the novel IF YOU COME SOFTLY, friends and family members grieve the loss of Jeremiah, a teen mistakenly shot by New York City police officers. Jeremiah’s death has impacted everyone close to him: his mother has become a hermit, his girlfriend becomes aloof, his best friend struggles with his own sexual identity, and his basketball team can’t win again. Even Jeremiah’s spirit struggles to move onward in the after-life because of his unfinished business on earth. When happenstance connects these individuals, they begin to help each other emerge from death’s darkness. Jeremiah’s dead grandmother urges him to “leave the living alone,” but he wants to connect, to “look behind” on the ones he has left.

Woodson expertly combines the viewpoints of the living and the deceased in order to thoroughly examine the grief process. Powerful thoughts are related through the teens and adults in the story, and these are sure to promote profound thoughts about relationships. Young adult readers will appreciate the frankness with which Woodson intertwines interracial dating, homosexuality, divorce, and prejudice into the story. This is an extremely perceptive novel that could have a lasting impact on its readers.

Ask readers to assume they have passed away by some violent circumstance. Where would their spirits linger? To whom would they send spiritual signals? Instruct them to include their thoughts in a poem or essay.

Ask readers to write a persuasive essay about their opinion on interracial dating and marriage.

Assign one character from the book to each student. Ask the student to draw a portrait of that character, based upon what they have read.

Other books about death and grief:
DiCamillo, Kate. TIGER RISING. ISBN 0763618985
Draper, Sharon Mills. TEARS OF A TIGER. ISBN 0689806981
Hoffman, Alice. GREEN ANGEL. ISBN 0439443857
McDaniel, Lurlene. TELLING CHRISTINA GOODBYE. ISBN 0553570870

By Rebecca S. McKee

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