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The BookBrowse Review

Published September 20, 2017

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Too Shattered for Mending
Too Shattered for Mending
by Peter Brown Hoffmeister

Hardcover (12 Sep 2017), 384 pages.
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN-13: 9780553538052

A gripping - and gritty - literary mystery that shines a light on rural poverty.

"Little" McCardell is doing all he can just to keep it together after the disappearance of his grandfather "Big" and the arrest of his older brother, JT. He's looking out for his younger cousin, trying to stay afloat in school, working in the town graveyard for extra cash, and in his spare time he's pining after Rowan - the girl JT was dating until he got locked up. When the cops turn up asking questions about Big, Little doesn't want to get involved in the investigation - he's already got enough to deal with - but he has no choice. Especially not after the sheriff's deputy catches him hunting deer out of season and threatens to prosecute unless he cooperates.

Soon Little finds himself drowning in secrets, beholden to the sheriff, to JT, to Rowan, and to Big's memory, with no clear way out that doesn't betray at least one of them. And when Little's deepest secret is revealed, there's no telling how it could shatter their lives.


Rowan smells like water. I told her that once. I said, "You smell like an eddy." I was thinking of the North Fork of the Clearwater. The backcountry runs, rocks and pools, clean enough to see the trout cut to shadow.

Rowan was drinking a Monster in front of the Mini- Mart. She said, "A what?"

She'd sliced the knees out of her jeans, scissored them way back to the side, and I kept looking at all that exposed skin.

I said, "Like an eddy on the river, when you wade in. You know?"

"When I wade in?"

"To fish," I said.

She tilted her head, and the hair she'd pulled up bobbed to the left. "So I smell like a fish?"

"No," I said, "not like a fish. You smell like an eddy."She smiled, already shaking her head, laughing at me.

I said, "Messing with me, huh?"

It was last school year. I was a freshman then, a year younger than her. I'd gotten more work in the cemetery and I imagined that I'd take her out, do something nice for her. Rowan was with JT but I tried to ignore that.

Rowan finished her Monster and threw the empty down on the cement. "I'll see you around?" she said, and made a fish motion with her hand.

the running kind

Sheriff's deputy pulls off the asphalt of the Idaho 11. Drops his Clearwater County cruiser into the flats next to the trampoline. Willa stops jumping and watches. Exposes her teeth, sticking her tongue through her front gap.

The deputy gets out. Walks over to me where I'm search-ing for chicken eggs in the overgrowth. He says, "Are you the kid they call Little?"

I stand up straight. Say, "Yep." Let him see my full height: six foot five and still growing.

"All right." He nods. Looks up at me. Taps his badge. "I'm Deputy White. Sheriff's Department."

I know who he is. Know where he lives, up Walker Road toward the National Guard school. Know his mustache and his cruiser.

Deputy says, "Have you seen your grandfather lately?"

I shake my head.

"Not at all?" he asks.

"Not at all."

Deputy White stares off to the northeast, the cemetery rows, the plots and headstones like teeth bucking up out of the ground. He says, "For how long?"

I have the chicken eggs in my left hand. Pick the stuck grass between them with my right, look in the same direction as the deputy, across the graveyard. Say, "Weeks maybe? I don't know."

Deputy White hooks his thumbs in his utility belt. "You think he's gone down the Grade?" He means to Orofino, along the Clearwater River. A meth run.

I shake my head again. The deputy says, "You don't know or you won't say?"

"Can't," I say, " 'cause I haven't seen him." I shift the eggs in my hand like a pitcher choosing a baseball.

The deputy has his hands on his hips. He's looking past the cemetery now, staring into the hills, the lodgepole pines beyond the Baptist church, the first trees after a slash fire, all the same shade of high green, low gray.

He says, "So that's how it's gonna be, then?"

I don't say anything. There's nothing to say to that.

Deputy White points at the big house. Derlene's out on that porch now. Uncle Lucky too. "Okay," the deputy says. "If y'all do see him, you tell him I'm looking for him and we need to talk. He's slipped up, and I'm following. You got that?"

"Okay," I say. Derlene and Uncle Lucky don't say anything at all. Their faces are sacks of Quikrete. Cigarettes smoking between their fingers.

"Now y'all don't forget it. I want him talking to me real soon, you hear?" The deputy nods at us like he's being friendly but he unsnaps his holster with his thumb while he smiles, and when he walks to his driver's-side door, he circles around the back of his cruiser so he can keep us in front of him. This is the angle the law takes here. Keep your back to the wall. A man could catch a potshot easy.

three days after

Big, I thought I saw you walk up from the shallows to the ballfield, Highway 11 around the turn to Main Street, your head down the way you always walked as if there was some-thing important on the ground in front of you that needed focus. But you didn't have your bucket with you, and I knew it was only my head bothering me. There was no one in the grass along the road. I blinked, and there was no one next to the ballfield either. The night became the morning, all in one moment, and the dew on the early- fall grass was like metal shavings sprinkled by God.

Full Excerpt

Excerpt copyright © 2017 by Peter Brown Hoffmeister. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

A powerful young adult novel about loss, fear, survival and, most of all, hope.

Print Article

Some books break us a little bit as readers; they force us to walk in the shoes of characters who are so much more than words on a page, who live in an endless mire of challenges, and who still manage to hold on to the slightest sliver of hope without even knowing that this is what they are doing. They teach us, the reader, to be a little bit better at being human. And that is the best thing I can say about Peter Brown Hoffmeister's third novel: it broke me. The book follows Gavin "Little" McCardell through his life in Pierce, Idaho, where, for all intents and purposes, he seems to be just holding things together on his own.

Little is used to being independent, but it is unsettling to read about how alone and unsupported he really is. His story moves back and forth in time, traveling his memories while also detailing his present life. What is noticeable is who is absent: Where is Big, his grandfather? And somewhat less importantly: Where is everyone else? With his older brother in jail, no parents in sight, and the only adults mentioned being the local sheriff, a delinquent aunt and uncle, and teachers, the most imposing adult figure in Little's life seems to be the memory of Big, and the web of secrets and fear that surrounds him. Yet despite not receiving much in the way of care himself, Little cares for others with a strength that many who live without his uncertainties fail to muster. He hunts and fishes to keep himself and his younger cousin fed (see Beyond the Book), struggles through school despite his dyslexia, and notices when others are hurting. He loves in his own way, without ever naming it that, or perhaps not even knowing that this is what he is doing.

As Too Shattered For Mending unfolds, one of the themes pushing throughout is the dynamic between strength and weakness, love and control. The language used around relationships and personhood, around discussions of race and who "good" people are – as framed from a primarily male character gaze – reveal much about how society defines masculinity, especially in places where strength is valued over compassion, if only for the sake of survival. The stark realities of Little's life force us to question how, in general, these kinds of social patterns and rules evolve, and how he, specifically, has been affected by them. They also force us to wonder who is complicit in them, even as we root for Little to find something better. We recognize that, in part, he is searching for a piece of his identity, and with it, a different kind of pattern and a different kind of masculinity. If anything, I wish that this had been explored more deeply by the author.

Hoffmeister's work might be directed at young adults, primarily, but it reflects the experience of youth in a way that becomes accessible to adults who might have forgotten how to step outside of themselves. This book challenges all readers at every turn, but especially adults who think too often that there are bad things that happen, but that it is someone else's job to handle them. However, despite these challenges, this novel also reaffirms or teaches readers about the capacity of the human spirit to flourish against impossible odds; a lesson that cannot be taught too often. With a character that will open reader's eyes to a life that should not be able to be imagined as true, and a plot that reveals more about human nature in its stark complexity, Too Shattered For Mending should be considered a must-read for all ages.

Reviewed by Michelle Anya Anjirbag

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. [Hoffmeister's] characters are complex and authentic, and his subtle, stripped-down writing changes the narrative in startling ways as the story unfolds and more details come to light.

School Library Journal
Starred Review. A dark, somber novel with an endearing heart and a captivating protagonist, this excellent title is recommended for libraries with fans of realistic fiction. Grades 10 and up.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Proof that even in the darkness, there can be light.

Author Blurb Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King.
The missing link between Looking for Alaska and Winter's Bone.

Author Blurb David Arnold, New York Times bestselling author of Mosquitoland and Kids of Appetite
A gritty gem of a book.

Author Blurb Kathleen Glasgow, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces
A powerful and uncompromising story about survival, loss, fear, and what happens when hope is only the bleakest sliver of light. You will not soon forget Little McCardell or his unwavering spirit.

Print Article

Food Insecurity and Education

Food InsecurityThere is no question that Little's life is affected by both his circumstances and the environment he lives in – and the Pierce, Idaho in which Hoffneister sets Too Shattered For Mending is not a figment of his imagination, but a real place, which means that it isn't a question of if there are real teens with the same struggles that Little and his peers face, but how many. Hoffman writes in an author's note:

The people of Pierce are engaging…Independent yet mutually supportive…It's strange being in a town where people are generally capable of wiring their own homes, acquiring their own meat, storing up wood for a long winter, and fixing their own cars or trucks, but that's Pierce…Unfortunately, the poverty, both financial and cultural, is stunning as well. The racism, the lack of higher education, the drug trade. There's little legal oversight, almost zero police or sheriff presence in the town. Many times in Pierce I've seen a twelve- or thirteen-year-old ride an ATV on the Idaho 11 through the middle of town with a shotgun or rifle on his front rack.

This certainly paints a strong picture of what life is like in a place that is remote in every way, and it makes what Little faces every day that much harder, and his commitment to trying to stay in school that much more commendable. One of the hardest things to read about is the food uncertainty in the lives of most of the youth the novel focuses on; Little can hunt and fish, and does so to supplement the food supply for both himself and his cousin, who is, at one point, very concerned that there is no meat for them to eat. But Little and his cousin also depend upon food stamps, which are sometimes bartered for other things before food can be purchased. Throughout the book, there is a sense of constant hunger underlying Little's life. Readers watch him skip school to supplement his food supply, and see him eat to the point of being sated only once. His cousin is vocal about her hunger, and Rowena, the girl Little's brother was dating, is always described in wan tones.

As of 2015, The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) estimated that 15 million children in the US – 21% of all children – lived below the federal poverty threshold, and that 43% lived in low-income families. According to the American Psychological Association's presentation on the effects of poverty, hunger, and homelessness on children and youth, as of 2010, 22% of children under the age of 18 lived in food-insecure households. Hunger has well-documented negative impacts on children, from early development through adolescence, including increased demonstration of negative behavior – something seen with Willa, Little's cousin, – increased risk of psychiatric and functional problems, and increased risk for chronic health conditions. In addition to the physical and social impacts, hunger also impacts children's ability to learn: American Pediatric Association research connects nutrition to brain function in children, where kids with access to poorer nutrition tend to be more distracted, and unable to focus.

Food insecurity in the United States does not have a tangible single solution, but is often acknowledged and supported both with federal programs such as food stamps and school lunch programs, and community food banks in many areas. As the need grows, more communities and people are being made aware of the level of food insecurity in the US, and also the individual and social ramifications of this insecurity across a person's life. However, it is rare that those who do not personally experience it are given such a clear picture of the anxiety of food insecurity as Hoffmeister portrays in Too Shattered For Mending.

Food Insecurity image.

By Michelle Anya Anjirbag

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