The Year Without Michael by Susan Beth Pfeffer: C

From the back cover:
Bad things aren’t supposed to happen to good people. But somewhere between home and the softball field, 16-year-old Jody Chapman’s younger brother disappeared, and now the family is falling apart. Her parents hardly speak to each other, her younger sister is angry and bitter, and Jody’s friends, always so important to her, are slowly slipping away. It seems that all anyone can do is wait. Wait—for Michael to walk in the door. Wait—to stop missing him. Wait—to stop waiting. When a private detective can’t uncover a single clue about Michael’s disappearance, Jody’s urgent need to find him drives her to make a last desperate attempt to hold her family together.

Having mostly enjoyed Life As We Knew It, I decided to check out something else by Pfeffer. The subject matter is different but the general idea of a family in crisis still remains. I don’t think Pfeffer handled it as well in this earlier book, however.

The major issue is the terrible dialogue. Though the back cover promises “honest dialogue,” in reality it is anything but. I think the problem is that there is seldom any indication of tone or delivery. It’s just ____ said, ____ replied, ____ declared. Even when a character is supposed to be having an outburst, the text doesn’t bring the idea across. Here’s an example:

“I hate all of you. You’re all crazy and I hate you all, and I wish you’d all just leave me alone and die.”

Not even one exclamation mark in all of that? I can’t help but read it in the blandest possible monotone.

The dialogue problems really undercut anything else that Pfeffer might’ve achieved. For all I know, this is an accurate portrayal of the kind of upheaval a family goes through after a child goes missing—oft-repeated hopeful speculation and empty promises giving way to tantrums and irrational blame games—but it just doesn’t seem genuine.

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