The Whole Stupid Way We Are
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 4, 2014
What happens when everything you’ve got to give isn’t enough to save someone you love? This transformative portrayal of “injustice, frustration, and rage is wrenching and difficult to forget” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
It’s Maine. It’s winter. And it’s FREEZING STINKIN’ COLD! Dinah is wildly worried about her best friend, Skint. He won’t wear a coat. Refuses to wear a coat. It’s twelve degrees out, and he won’t wear a coat. So Dinah’s going to figure out how to help. That’s what Dinah does—she helps. But she’s too busy trying to help to notice that sometimes, she’s doing more harm than good. Seeing the trees instead of the forest? That’s Dinah.
And Skint isn’t going to be the one to tell her. He’s got his own problems. He’s worried about a little boy whose dad won’t let him visit his mom. He’s worried about an elderly couple in a too-cold house down the street.
But the wedge between what drives Dinah and what concerns Skint is wide enough for a big old slab of ice. Because Skint’s own father is in trouble. Because Skint’s mother refuses to ask for help even though she’s at her breaking point. And because Dinah might just decide to…help. She thinks she’s cracking through a sheet of ice, but what’s actually there is an entire iceberg.
★ “When readers meet 14-year-old Dinah, she’s plotting to get her best friend Skint out of detention, which is Dinah all over: she’s a loving worrier, loyal even to the people and things she’s ambivalent about, like the Girls’ Friendly Society, a service group whose members have dwindled to three older women, Dinah, and the technically ineligible Skint. The Girls’ Friendly tries to help people in its small Maine town, but never in the way Dinah and Skint wish. And the truth is, Skint, whose father has early-onset dementia, could use some help himself, not that he’d take it. First-time author Griffin is good at depicting a small town where the many interconnections make it hard to know what to overlook and when to intervene, and she is equally tuned into the different ways people, adults and teens both, fail each other. It’s impossible not to like clumsy, warm-hearted Dinah, even as her best intentions turn Skint’s family upside down; Griffin’s portrayal of Dinah and Skint’s sense of injustice, frustration, and rage is wrenching and difficult to forget.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
★ “Griffin’s debut is atmospheric and brutally sad, expertly using the desolate, frozen landscape to underscore the friends’ chilling loss of faith in the world at both the micro (Skint’s mother’s astonishing failure as a compassionate guardian; Dinah’s church group leader’s bigotry) and macro (an onslaught of news stories about human rights abuses) levels. Skint’s family situation is brought to life with rare clarity and painful particularity, and the more universal scenario of one friend pulled into adulthood while the other clings to childhood will ring true with readers. Griffin’s writing is assured and nuanced… Hand it to those who like their tearjerkers realistic and unrelenting.”
—Horn Book, starred review
“The friendship between optimistic Dinah Beach and depressed, nihilistic Skint Gilbert is tested in a carefully crafted and highly stylized tale…. Skint thinks constantly about human cruelty; Dinah wants playful distractions. Skint lives with a father suffering from dementia and a mother who is bitter, angry and occasionally violent; Dinah takes care not to bring up Skint’s family. Images of Skint wandering coatless through the New England winter haunt even the narrative’s cheerful moments, and the story builds to a climax both inevitable and wrenching. Readers who invest in this quirky set of characters and circumstances will be rewarded.”
“N. Griffin’s debut novel raises issues (such as religious faith, social responsibility and poverty) not commonly found in young adult fiction. In the end, Griffin encourages readers to consider important questions: Is it possible to see the troubles that surround us without succumbing to despair? And what is left when loving someone is not enough to save them? Simultaneously quirky, funny, thoughtful and sad, The Whole Stupid Way We Are will remain with readers long after its heartbreaking final pages.”
“Skint's life is spinning out of control, and Dinah's desperate efforts to stop the spin only hasten it. This is a story that is so furious, so heartbreaking, and at the same time, so shiny, that by the last line, I realized that everyone here, including the reader, can be their own boss of light. A thing of beauty, that's what this is.”
—Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath, a Newbery Honor book