The Greats

Listening Library. 2020. 407p. $38. ISBN 9780593343944.
Gr 5-8–On a night that should have brought him great joy and pride, young Jomon’s depression and loneliness drive him to violence and destruction, and subsequently to make the decision to end his young life. Although he helped his team win the national geography competition, Jomon feels that since he is no longer useful to the classmates, he will no longer have them as friends. His family life has been in shambles ever since his mother died, and his alcoholic father is frequently absent, more of a burden than a support. After he is arrested for throwing his gold medal through a store window, Jomon is visited by three of his ancestors, beginning with his great-great-grandfather, all appearing as their teenage selves. As they relate the tragic stories that led to their own deaths, revealing dark secrets and ancient arguments, the Greats try to use their experiences to deter Jomon from taking his own life. Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated plot, a life-sized exhibit of a Megatherium, a giant prehistoric sloth, comes to life and wanders out of the Guyana National Museum. By the time their paths cross, Jomon is less angry; he’s ready to listen to his Greats and contemplate the possibility of a future, with newfound freedom like Gather the sloth. Both stories conclude rather abruptly. Bahni Turpin engages the listener masterfully, using appropriate expression and accents to reflect the voices of the Guyanese characters and their emotional exchanges. Organizations that offer help to those who contemplate suicide are appended.
VERDICT By cloaking it in myth and allegory, Ellis discusses suicide and life’s purpose without being preachy or heavy-handed, but leaves the resolution open-ended.

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