Recommended for grades 9-12
For class the other week, I read A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt. After finishing the book, I officially declared on Facebook and Twitter that this book goes on my “annual reads” shelf (which is really imaginary, since all the books I try to read yearly are all over the place!). The story focuses on 16-year-old Simone and her family—mom, dad, a younger brother, and her birth mother.
Simone’s family is very tight-knit; in fact, Simone has such a close relationship to her 14-year-old brother, a reader with (and without) siblings might just be jealous. The family eats dinner together and you will find them lounging about together, too. In fact, Simone’s mother will have the whole family volunteer on a Saturday morning to get the public to sign petitions for the ACLU. This brings the issue of religion into the picture (not overwhleming) because the case Simone’s mother is representing is for the town to remove a cross from the flag.
In the beginning, the novel focuses on Simone’s parents trying to convince her to meet her birth mother, Rivka, for the very first time. The story continues on to the relationship that forms between Simone and Rivka. Weaved throughout the book is Simone’s evolving self identity.
Simone is extremely apprehensive about meeting her birth mother, so much so, that she yells at her parents for even mentioning the topic. While interviewing her mother for the school newspaper, Simone finds out that her mother’s first case involved her birth mother…she also finds out her birth mother is Jewish (formerly a Hasidic Jew). This just adds to a chain of events that leads Simone to realize that no matter how much she tries to ignore the issue, she feels this nagging sensation to find out about that part of her life.
The development of the relationship between Rivka and Simone is well-written. Reinhardt beautifully conveys Jewish traditions and according to many of my non-Jewish classmates makes it easy and non-intimidating to grasp because they are learning right along with Simone. Sadly, it is learned that Rivka has ovarian cancer. The effects aren’t seen till later in the novel, but Simone shows her maturation when this comes about. And by the end of the novel, Simone realizes she doesn’t quite hold the same beliefs as her parents, but knows she needs to forge her own way.
Simone is a believable teen character; her attitude and voice convince the reader of this. Simone’s friendships in the novel play out well and I enjoyed seeing the interaction, especially between her, James and Cleo. There is off the page sex for Cleo and parties where the teens drink, though Simone has an embarrassing moment due to drinking too much which could be a drinking deterrent for some.
The crush turned romance between Simone and Zack is realistic—if the reader has ever experienced a crush, it’s easy to relate. Really, Zack is an example of what every boyfriend should be like—kind, caring, supportive, and collaborative. The morning after their first date, Zack even calls Simone and asks her to go on a walk, just to be by her again.
Reinhardt, D. (2006). A Brief chapter in my impossible life. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books.