When Reason Breaks

by Cindy L. Rodriguez

(Bloomsbury USA, $17.99, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

Cindy L. Rodriguez, of Plainville, is a former Hartford Courant reporter and Boston Globe investigative researcher who left journalism to become a public school teacher. Rodriquez is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school and also teaches college-level composition. When Reason Breaks, a YA novel, is her debut book. She is a member of the Class of 2K15, the Fearless Fifteeners, the We Need Diverse Books Team and Latin@s in Kid Lit. You can reach her on Twitter: @RodriguezCindyL .

What is this book about?

Two high school girls with serious emotional problems find comfort in the words of poet Emily Dickinson and help from a caring teacher. Elizabeth Davis, a Goth girl whose mother is overwhelmed with problems, develops anger management issues. Emily Delgado, a sweet girl tentatively exploring romance, has a father obsessed with political success and unblemished family images, and she struggles with serious depression. This novel captures the emotional whirlwinds of adolescence well and cleverly brings Dickinson’s words and ideas into the plot.

Why you’ll like it:

I first met Cindy Rodriguez in 1993 when she was hired by The Courant to be the first reporter for a new City Desk feature, the Hartford Neighborhoods page, which I edited. She was newly graduated from UConn and immediately proved to be a sensitive and savvy reporter who knew how to tell a good story. Those skills are also evident in her first novel, which handles teenage angst with delicacy, offers believable characters and also may serve as an introduction to Dickinson’s immortal poetry for teen readers. The story opens with a near-suicide but does not reveal which girl attempted it until the end, telling the tale through flashbacks that add a bit of mystery to this dramatic and compelling story.

What others are saying:

“This realistic novel invites readers into the lives of two high schoolers, Elizabeth Davis and Emily Delgado, as they struggle with unrelated painful events, reacting in ways as different as their personalities. Artistic Elizabeth changes her appearance to look Goth, skips class, fights with her mother and sometimes experiences uncontrollable rage. Emily tends toward a preppy, academic style, but bouts of anxiety impact her studies and relationships. The two young women are brought together in their English class, where teacher Mrs. Davis engages students with authentic care and a curricular focus on Emily Dickinson. Deep analysis of the poet’s life and writings results in personal insights for the protagonists. The use of foreshadowing at the beginning of the book alerts to future trauma without spoiling the plot, and a reference to the board game Clue provides a subtle tool for making meaning of the quick shifts in narrative perspective and form. Latino culture, and bicultural and gay family relationships are woven easily into the story; popular culture references and some romance will also resonate with adolescents. Overall, this text provides important insights into the various stressors that can lead to depression and suicide, as well as the type of support required to move toward potential healing,” says School Library Journal.

Publishers Weekly says: “First-time author Rodriguez cleverly represents Emily Dickinson’s dark side and her reclusive tendencies through the two distinct personalities of her teenage heroines, who are studying the poet in English class. Elizabeth Davis, who enjoys visiting a nearby cemetery, is fascinated with death, but her expression of it through drawings and journal entries have gotten her into trouble at school. Classmate Emily Delgado is not nearly as bold, keeping her despair a secret, but the pressure of being the perfect daughter of a rising politician is becoming too heavy a burden to bear. After the girls team for a project on Dickinson, Elizabeth’s ideas are misinterpreted, causing her to become enraged, while Emily, absorbed in conflicts with old friends and the boy she likes, spirals into depression. The question remains whether, in the heat of their individual crises, the newly formed friendship between Elizabeth and Emily can survive. If the numerous allusions to Dickinson’s life (pointed out in an author’s note) are somewhat forced at times, the inner torment of the two main characters and the book’s psychologically intense climax remain gripping.”

Says VOYA: “A high school student leaves a note under her teacher’s door and walks into the woods to swallow a handful of pills. As she lies on the ground and her teacher rushes to find her, the story flashes back eight months. Two high school sophomores, Emily and Elizabeth, tell their very different stories in alternating chapters. They connect in English class where they are studying Emily Dickinson’s life and work. It is clear that both students are troubled; however, it is unclear until the end which of the two students is the one in the opening scene. This narrative gambit allows the author to give one of the main characters a resolved ending while still illustrating effectively and accurately the struggle that suicidal teens face. As one would expect with a novel of this type, contact information for suicide hotlines is provided. In addition, the connection between Emily Dickinson’s life and When Reason Breaks is also discussed in an author’s note. One of the more notable characteristics of this title is the prevalence of Latino characters, doing culturally Latino things, like speaking snippets of Spanish at home, in a story in which the heritage of the characters is not critical to the plot. Representation of diverse characters in books that are not overtly multicultural in nature is an additional positive in an already strong story. . .”

Kirkus Reviews says: “Two young women struggle with family and school pressure, finding support in a kind, principled teacher in this contemporary novel featuring alternating narrators.The story opens as one of them—readers do not know which one—attempts suicide in the opening chapter. Though readers may at first have trouble distinguishing between their voices due to the similarity of their names and to that purposeful obfuscation, Emily Delgado and Emily Davis (who goes by her middle name, Elizabeth) could scarcely be more different. Quiet, careful Emily is the daughter of a local politician whose image-conscious authority grates on his family. Elizabeth is opinionated and tough, though she, her younger sister and her mother are still reeling from the anguish caused by her father’s departure from the family after his extramarital affair. One of their teachers, Ms. Diaz, becomes a confidante for each of them, and she pairs them up for a project on Emily Dickinson, whose poems are discussed throughout and whose life circumstances serve as inspiration for the characters. The portrayal of the different ways people experience depression is spot-on—including the terrifying and believable way some of its less visible symptoms can be missed by the loved ones of those who are suffering. A sharply drawn, emotionally resonant tale of two girls—one gripped by uncontrollable rage, the other by unrelenting numbness—that will speak to many teens.”

When is it available?

The Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Mark Twain, Albany, Ropkins and Barbour branches have copies of this book.

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