This book won the Coretta Scott King Award. The scenes of the neighborhood reminded me of the film Fences. People sitting out on their stoop, reading the newspaper and watching neighbors walk by. Kids playing in the street. People’s lives being more out in the open for others to see than is the case in the neighborhoods in college towns that I grew up in.
Matt is in high school. He isn’t really engaged in school so it plays a very small part in the book. School is a morning placeholder where he gets out around noon and goes to his job at the funeral home. His mentor there is Mr. Ray who turns out to have been a professional athlete. After an injury on the court, he had to give up his dreams of a basketball career. But, he took over his father’s business and became a successful and compassionate community businessperson.
As the story opens, Matt’s mom has died of cancer. His father goes off on a drinking binge. Matt is left to himself to grieve. He feels he needs a job to help his dad. He is rescued from a job at the local greasy chicken place by Mr. Ray, a family friend who offers him an after school job at the funeral home. He sneaks in to watch a funeral and finds it therapeutic to focus on the person closest to the deceased. It helps to see how others are going through the grieving process.
He spends time with his long time friend Chris and eventually meets a girl he is interested in, first at the Cluck Bucket where she works and later at her grandmother’s funeral. It is a sweet story.
In the Acknowledgements, the author notes, “This is going to sound weird, but the only reason this book could be written at all is because my mother took me to a lot of funerals at a very young age. So…uh…thanks, Ma.”