Sorry for Your Loss is Pup’s coming of age story. Every bildungsroman features a character that faces challenges, but Pup suffers more challenges than most. This poor guy is trying to discover himself while being the oops baby in the very large, working middle class, suburban Chicago Flanagan family. As the youngest of eight siblings (seven years separate him from his next youngest sibling), Pup has always felt loved but under the radar. The entire, huge family (the sibs, the sibs-in-law, the nephews and nieces) have Sunday dinner every single week. EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. Pup says family vacations are planned around Sunday dinner. In his seventeen years of life, Pup has never missed a Sunday dinner. This is the kind of family we’re talking about. Except they are a grieving family that doesn’t grieve. And instead of eight siblings, there are now seven. It’s been almost three years since Patrick died, but no one talks about it. Each is left to grieve in his or her own way, sometimes with disastrous results. Pup’s manner of grieving is to stay invisible and inwardly boil over the image of the fat, cherubic, baby angel his mother used to replace Patrick’s 8th-grade graduation picture on the wall of the Flanagan children’s 8th-grade graduation pictures. It’s through his unexpected gift in photography, his new friendship with fellow photographer and North African immigrant, Abrihet, and, eventually, therapy, that Pup begins to find his own identity and truly, properly, and healthily grieve his brother.
As a longtime high school librarian who devours 200 YA books per year, I have read plenty of books that include dead family members. These books have become more poignant for me after losing my mother three years ago. Something I’ve noticed since then that I don’t know ever really resonated with me before is just how differently people grieve. I really like talking about my mom and sharing my Facebook memories with my kids and sister when they pop up on my feed. But some of my family members immediately clam up when I mention Mom in casual conversation. I could definitely relate to Pup and how he wanted to talk about Patrick but couldn’t. Pup tells Abrihet all about Patrick but when she (so, so sweetly) brings Patrick up in a conversation they’re having about something random, he is shocked. Jessie Ann Foley shows these differences in grieving perfectly. I LOVE this author. I recommend her to fans of Jeff Zentner. Both authors were nominated for the American Library Association’s Morris Award, which honors a book published by a first-time author writing for teens which demonstrates impressive new voices in young adult literature. Zentner won the Morris in 2017 and Foley was a Morris finalist in 2015 (Jessie Ann, Isabel Quintero’s Gabi a Girl in Pieces was good but she can’t compare with your Carnival at Bray - you were robbed!!!). I will read everything written by both of these authors.
Finally, JAF is one of those authors that I could just highlight page after page of her writing. Here are some of my very favorite passages from Sorry for Your Loss:
Even though Abrihet’s family came from a country seven thousand miles from Flanland, even though they spoke a language he couldn’t understand and cooked with spices he’d never tasted, big families were the same everywhere: loud and nosy, loyal and prying, bossy and loving, prone to shoveling mountains of food onto their plates before the good stuff ran out.
In this light Pup looked into Abrihet’s eyes and wished he was a smarter person with a better vocabulary who could think of the word for the color they actually were. Something deep brown and velvet; newly turned soil in his father’s garden, maybe, or tree bark after a heavy rain.
I remember just lying there, trying to sleep, except I couldn’t because I knew that back home it was already morning, and I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother. I’d picture her getting out of bed, putting on her tea, standing at the table and pressing designs into the himbasha dough with the end of her fork. I’d picture the sun tipping over the mountains and flooding our kitchen with light. I’d imagine her closing her eyes, feeling that pink-gold heat on her face, somehow knowing that somewhere across the world, her daughter was lying awake on an air mattress and thinking of her. She lifted a hand to her cheek, as if feeling for the warmth of that faraway sunlight, ‘That’s why the nights were the worst. Because for those hours, my mother wasn’t even living in the same day as I was. If it was Friday here, it was already Saturday there. And I know it sounds weird, but I could feel the absence of her in my Fridays.