Silent to the Bone
E. L. Konigsburg (Young Adult Fiction)
“It is easy to pinpoint the minute when my friend Branwell began his silence. It was Wednesday, November 25, 2:43 P.M., Eastern Standard Time. It was there—or, I guess you could say not there—on the tape of the 911 call.”
They say, “For every Yin, there is a Yang”. If that’s true, then Branwell Zamborska is the Yin to Connor Kane’s Yang. Two friends the same age (born just weeks apart), going to the same school, and living just houses away from each other. Connor will tell you that the biggest difference between them is that Branwell “is just plain different”. He stands out in a crowd (quite literally—he is tall with bright red hair), is clumsy (he’s always dropping things), and likes offbeat music. Still, they complement each other and even share secret “codes”. Like BLUE PETER means “ready to go” and DAY CARE refers to their school. Or SIAS, which requires you to “Summarize In A Sentence” a selected topic with points awarded afterward. Given their closeness, it isn’t difficult to understand why Connor rushes to the aid of his friend, who has been rendered mute after his baby sister suffers a horrible accident and is struggling for life. The message on the 911 tape is enough to send Barnwell to the Clarion County Juvenile Behavioral Center, but Connor knows his friend and is certain that Branwell is innocent. But with Branwell rendered voiceless, how can the truth—whatever it is—be heard?
It is astonishing how many sensitive and provocative topics E. L. Konigsburg has dogpiled into one book: psychological trauma, sexual awareness, emotional manipulation, divorce, jealousy, revenge. But this isn’t the tawdry and explicit book that one might expect. Instead, Konigsburg handles each subject with sensitivity and care and scratches just enough of the surface to allow readers to reach their own obvious conclusions. This book is targeted from readers ages 10 and up, so some concepts may get a perplexed look from those on the younger end of the scale (“Hey, what’s Viagra?”) so be prepared for some possible teachable moments.
In addition to tackling so many complex issues with such finesse, Silent to the Bone received my highest review because of the deep bond that these two boys shared. This book was published in 2000, and you don’t often see the kind of unshakable, unquestioning, and unwavering devotion that Connor has for Branwell in many of today’s young adult books. In this age of jealousy, popularity, spite, ego, and peer pressure, friends are easily interchangeable. Connor is placed in the most impossible and unthinkable of circumstances by a friend who has totally withdrawn from the world. At any moment (and there are many), he could have simply given up and walked away. But somehow Connor finds a faint voice in the silence and that alone drives him to not give up on his friend nor abandon his cause.
E.L. Konigsburg gives readers a suspenseful book that explores the bond of friendship and demonstrates just how far that connection can be stretched without ever really breaking. I think if I had to SISA this book, I’d use the words of Yolanda, the day worker who lives across the street from the Zamborskas. When Connor explained to her how he had found a way to “talk” with Branwell, she said, “Friends always find a way to keep in touch.” Nine words. I wonder how many points Connor and Branwell would give me for that one?
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com