YA Review: The Minus-One Club

In this gritty and emotional young adult novel, Kekla Magoon (The Season of Styx Malone; X: A Novel), four-time Coretta Scott King Honor recipient and winner of the 2010 John Steptoe Award for New Talent, gives young adults another heartfelt, sincere work of contemporary realism.

Fifteen-year-old Kermit Sanders lost his older sister, Sheila, when "an intoxicated pickup driver... crossed a double yellow line and smashed" into her car. It has been a week since the accident and everything reminds him of her. When he returns to school, he finds an anonymous note in his locker with an invitation to meet in the art room. The letter is mysteriously signed "-1." Kermit, uncertain of what he's getting himself into, goes and is met with a group of his schoolmates who call themselves the "Minus-One Club." Although they're in different social groups, they all have one thing in common: the tragic loss of someone they loved. The group offers moral support to each other and welcomes Kermit, so long as he follows the rules. "1. Tell no one else about us. 2. We never talk about IT. 3. Ever. 4. Ever."

Kermit's crush, Matt Rincorn, is also a member of the group, and he soon takes Kermit under his wing. As Kermit and Matt's relationship turns romantic, Kermit learns that Matt's happy-go-lucky vibe is all a facade. Kermit explores his sexuality as his thoughts on religion change and he and his parents find ways to deal with grief. The pressure all becomes too much when Matt puts himself in serious danger--Kermit must find a way to care not only for himself but to help the rest of the group as well.

The Minus-One Club is broken into short, first-person chapters that alternate between present day, the past and Kermit's dreams. Magoon uses Kermit's nights to create fantastical, other-worldly settings and experiences where the teen can connect with his sister, work through his feelings of grief and consider his sexuality. Although the book is a quick and accessible read, it covers heavy topics readers may find emotionally demanding. Magoon thoughtfully includes themes relating to depression, suicide, identity and religious expression as she compassionately builds Kermit's complicated, sensitive inner life and depicts the various ways people might respond to the loss of a loved one. --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: In award-winning author Kekla Magoon's superbly written coming-of-age novel, a teenager tries to navigate life after the death of his sister.

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