The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner
• Reading level: Young Adult
• Hardcover: 208 pages
• Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 10, 2011)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0374371938
• ISBN-13: 978-0374371937
Ah, at last a book with many of my favorite things all mixed up. But, what do you get when you mix troll dolls, Slinkies, John Steinbeck, and Yoda? From past experience, I can tell you some of my best laid culinary plans have gone wildly astray. Take for example, the peach, date, banana ice cream my Aunt Jeanne and I whipped up one summer. She and I loved the sweet caramel colored confection, but we were the only ones. The rest of the family wanted vanilla.
Gae Polisner, on the other hand, has created a winning combination in The Pull of Gravity. She’s blended a tasty mix of timeless classic literature, pop culture, and kitschy fun that’s not only readable, but highly memorable and instructional as well.
Nick Gardner’s fifteen, which is really bad enough for anyone. Add to that, his Dad’s suffering extreme depression since the family moved from Manhattan to the suburbs and has spent most of his time lying on the couch gaining a massive amount of weight. Abruptly, his Dad decides to get off that couch and walk the 170 miles back to Manhattan in order to regain his physique and self esteem. His older brother’s changing fast, too—getting interested in girls and other related activities that are just TMI for Nick.
Add to that, his best friend’s dying. This isn’t news, exactly. Reginald Reyland, aka The Scoot, was born with progeria, a genetic defect which results in babies being born with an eighty year old’s system and a vastly shortened lifespan. Scoot handles his impending demise with far more grace and aplomb than the adults in his life. His RN Mom works double shifts at the hospital and leaves the kid mostly on his own and Scoot’s Dad left shortly after he was born unable to cope with the emotional crisis having a handicapped kid creates.
Scoot’s got one dying wish, which Nick learns from Jaycee Amato, Scoot’s odd new female friend. While Scoot’s Dad’s never been a part of his life, he’d like the man to have the signed first edition copy of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men he left for him. Jaycee suggests they honor Scoot’s wish and find Guy Reyland and hopefully bring him back to see Scoot one last time.
Together, they plan and embark on a journey to find Scoot’s Dad with only an out of date Rochester, NY address to go on. As the Robert Burns’ poem for which the Steinbeck novel’s name derived goes: The best laid plans of mice and men oft times go astray.
The Pull of Gravity offers much for readers of all ages. The novel’s populated with characters you won’t forget, but you wish you could make friends with. For a non-POV character who’s mostly off-screen and seen from the eyes of others, Scoot manages to come alive with a memorable mix of heartbreak and humor. Jaycee Amato, the brains behind the master plan, is also one of the most vividly drawn non-POV characters I’ve seen in a long time. She’s got a fashion sense which is a mix of Tim Burton and vintage toys and the kind of heart any friend would want to have.
In addition, the issues of family disintegration and loss of friends are some of the hardest people of any age have to face, particularly together. Married couples grow apart without having a physical move as inciter. Most of us don’t risk losing a close contemporary until we’re quite a bit older. Each step the characters take isn’t just a point of grief, but an opportunity for growth which is an amazing lesson for readers of all ages.
Speaking of lessons, the best YA doesn’t just entertain readers, it provides what my friends in the education field call “teachable moments.” Ms. Polisner handles disability in a frank and wise manner. Tolerance of differences and keeping one’s promises are the big themes of The Pull of Gravity and lessons each of us could learn at whatever stage of our lives we’re going through.
The highest compliment I could give any book is I wish I’d written it. I also wish I’d had The Pull of Gravity to read when I was fifteen.
Rebecca Kyle, February 2011