Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick, ISBN: 9781611065862
Plot Summary: Alex is mad at his mother for going out on a date, but he’s mostly mad at his father for running off with his 3rd grade teacher. So he gets drunk and tries to drive his mother’s car to his father’s house to yell at him. But he doesn’t get very far. He is sentenced to community service, which turns out to be keeping an old cranky man company at a nursing home. Solomon Lewis doesn’t want him there, and he makes it very clear by berating and insulting Alex every chance he can get. But the letters to the judge asking her to switch his assignment don’t work. Gradually, Alex finds out that Solomon used to be a jazz musician. Conversations turn into guitar lessons, and concerts held at the nursing home. Alex isn’t so eager to finish his community service hours anymore, but Solomon’s health is getting worse.
Critical Evaluation: This book combines several styles of storytelling, which I particularly enjoyed. Most of the story is told from Alex’s perspective, but he also includes his repeated letters to the judge on his case asking for a community service reassignment. So we get Alex’s conversational, inner monologue, as well as his more formal and polite voice as he uses with authority. We also briefly see his drunken voice, which unfortunately for him is reserved for the cops who arrest him. And we see his halting conversation skills with girls that he likes, or has just realized that he likes.
I do not recall a specific setting for this book, which says to me that it is meant to be more universal, representing a friendship between sixteen year old and senior citizen in almost any town. I keep returning to the funnier elements of the book, like the funny way that Laurie berates Alex for his drunk driving or the pranks Solomon plays on the residents at the nursing home. But I don’t mean to suggest that there is no weight to the book. Our narrator may sound snarky most of the time, but when he thinks he has killed someone, he is devastated and feels the full weight of his actions. Of course it is only a garden gnome, but the moment speaks to the more serious elements of the book.
Reader’s Annotation: After crashing his mother’s car while driving drunk, Alex is sentenced to hang out with a grumpy old man at a nursing home. Alex can’t believe his bad luck, until he finds out that Solomon also plays guitar… and maybe he won’t be grumpy all the time.
Information about the author: Jordan Sonnenblick was born in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in 1969. He attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where he majored in English. He also took numerous classes in Russian, history, and anthropology. He studied abroad in London, was involved in the marching band, played drums for a theater group, and performed as Santa Claus for cancer patients at a hospital.
After college Jordan joined Teach for America and taught 5th grade in Houston Texas. He then taught 11 years of 8th grade English in New Jersey. He lives with his wife and two children.
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Humor, Audiobook
Curriculum ties, if any: I think this book could be used to talk about jazz history.
Booktalking Ideas: This is a very funny, but heartfelt story. I think girls will like hearing about Laurie, the tiny but tough best friend that can and does kick Alex’s butt. Musical students will like hearing about that there is a fair amount of music talk in the book. I think it would also be fun to mention that there are a lot of Yiddish insults in the book, and maybe during a booktalk I would point some of them out.
Reading Level/Interest Age: Alex is sixteen years old, and some of the story refers to things that older teens will understand better. School Library Journal finds this book appropriate for readers in 8th grade or higher, while Publisher’s Weekly suggests it for readers 12 years old and up.
- Drunk Driving
- First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
- Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
- Bibliographic Citation of the book.
- A description of who the book is best suited for.
- A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
- My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
- Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
- ALA Library Bill of Rights
- Good and bad reviews of the book
- Alternative works a student could read
- Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
- When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
- If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.
The drunk driving in this story should serve more as a cautionary tale than encouragement for readers. After the initial drinking, Alex doesn’t drink again in the book.
Why did you include this book? : It is a funny and touching book by an author I have previously read and enjoyed.
Bio (2013). Jordan Sonnenblick. Retrieved from http://www.jordansonnenblick.com/bio/