Thursday, October 26, 2023

Gather by Kenneth M. Cadow

Gather by Kenneth M. Cadow
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages: 337 pages
Published:   October 3rd, 2023
Source:  Publisher 

Opening Lines:  "You see people doing things they shouldn't.  Sometimes you mind your own business.  Other times you might say something, but it's hard to do that if you've just been caught red-handed yourself."

 Ian's mom has just returned home from the hospital, with visible tape and gauze on her arm from an I.V. Ian suspects she had an accidental overdose, but the initial excuse is that she had work done on her back.   No one is discussing the needle that's still in the living room, or even where she's been, but both his mom and Aunt Terry are curious about the big dog hanging out around the house.  

While Ian's mom was away, the dog showed up on the porch eager for Ian to give him some food.  Ever since, they've become inseparable, so Ian sort of adopted him.  Now that his mom is back, he's sure that she'll want him to get rid of the dog, but somehow the conversation never comes up.  Now that mom's home, Ian feels a few changes are in order.  For one, he decides to quit the basketball team so he can get a job.  If he ever wants to get his families car, barn and farm back up and running he really needs an income.  Plus, this gives him the chance to be around and take care of his mom so she can hopefully beat her opioid addiction this time.  The story takes place before Thanksgiving and runs through the holidays, chronicling all of Ian's struggles to find work, in school and with fixing up the house.  Everything culminates in a personal tragedy that sends Ian and his dog on the run, with Ian vowing that no one will ever separate him from his dog.   

I don't know what I initially thought when I saw the cover.  I imagine that I thought this was a story about a boy and his beloved dog.  Which it surely is, but it's also so much more.  For me, it's about the title, which also happens to be Ian's adopted dogs name, Gather.  Websters says that Gather means " to bring together or collect."   Throughout the story, Ian intentionally or not gather's people around him.  People who become a support system to him.  There's his teacher, The Sharpe who takes care of her students by buying them snacks and offering her room as a refuge.  A place where Ian can warm his pants after the rain, and a place where he can be "seen."  Then there is the school nurse, who also keeps snacks for kids, and who keeps deodorant and extra clothing just in case they are needed.  Then there are people in Ian's community who gather around him.  Or as I like to think, all the special people that he attracts. The connections that he makes which each and every one of them is just beautiful.  Be it his elderly neighbor who he does handy work for or even the owner of the coffee shop his mom works at, they all play a part in the story. 

I found the initial pages of Gather to be very powerful in setting the scene of Ian and his mom's relationship.  Neither of them knows how to discuss the important things going on at home, not the needle that shows up in the living room, or even where his moms been and why?  It leaves Ian walking on eggshells, trying not to upset his mom by bringing up anything that might be stress inducing (like why she really lost her job) or anything that might cause her to have a relapse.  Ian and his mom's relationship is also filled with misunderstandings, moments when Ian misinterprets certain events because he doesn't have the whole picture.  Despite all the chaos at home, Ian is a resilient kid who strives for a better life for himself and his mother.   

This is a story of homelessness, rural life, addiction and the importance of community.  It is written in first person narrative with such an authentic voice, curses and all.  The story meanders between the past and present, with Ian switching topics frequently to draw on past events, even veering from one idea to the next.  I'm not usually a fan of a character "back tracking" or "getting ahead of themselves", but somehow it really worked in the story.   Ian was forced into growing up so fast and took on so much responsibility.   Sometimes, the story even felt like Ian's memoir or that you're reading his adult reflections on his youth.  But always you feel Ian's hopes, dreams and desires for his future. This is an excellent book, thought provoking, builds empathy and I can certainly see why it's a National Book Award finalist for Young People's Literature.  This story made a huge impact on me and it's a story that will stick with me for quite some time. 

**A huge thank you to Candlewick Press for the review copy in exchange for an honest review.** 

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