The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2020
Eleanor Boone was a basketball phenom before the shooting, and it is Eleanor whose horrified scream becomes the face of an anti-gun movement. She puts the “fight” in the fight-or-flight response, getting herself kicked out of school day after day for wearing a homemade F&%K GUNS t-shirt. When her face is featured on the evening news she becomes a focal point for national gun-rights groups, and her father’s construction business suffers. Her rock-solid parents steady her without saying too much or too little: they stand behind her. As the anniversary nears, she has put away the t-shirts because she needs to be in school to attend basketball practice—she needs the discipline and the and structure, and she hopes basketball will help her earn a scholarship for college.
Bliss structures Thoughts & Prayers carefully, without the cuts back and forth that are so popular in multi-narrator fiction: the book is a collection of three independent novellas with a barely-perceptible overlap of stories. Unlike many YA novels, including Bliss’s earlier novels, each teen is deeply loved, deeply listened to by family members who matter, but each victim is completely alone in their own experience of the trauma. There is no intertwining: they will not band together to overcome. All have been offered therapy: two possess significant relationships with good therapists who remain on-call and in touch with parents. Even Claire, who has avoided therapy, has an older brother who can rearrange his life and put his career on hold for her. Eleanor’s boyfriend Tyler understands her, fears for her, and wears a thick skin when she needs to vent. Their situations could not be any better to encourage their healing.
This is one of the most gorgeous themes of the book: each teen has all the support that can humanly be given, with the love and thoughtfulness so elegantly-wrought to bring this reader to tears repeatedly, but like “thoughts and prayers” offered by political leaders, the best of circumstances will not be enough to bring healing and rest. These teens were not physically wounded, but their lives may suddenly devolve into anguish at any moment.”
- — from our review by Denise Frame Harlan
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