From the outside, this is an unassuming little book. But open to the first page and watch out. I opened this gem at 4:30 this morning. By 7, I was a teary mess. THE ORANGE HOUSES by Paul Griffin (Dial, 2009) grabs hold and refuses to let go. The opening poem, penned by one of the main characters of the book is followed by a pseudo news story and then Chapter One where we meet Tamika (call her Mik, rhymes with nick), a high school student who is hearing impaired. However, Mik's loss of hearing does allow her to dwell in silence from time time, gives her time to contemplate the world around her, the people who chatter meaninglessly. Chapter Two gives readers a second narrator in the person of Fatima Esperer (she has given herself a last name that means hope), a refugee who longs to see the Statue of Liberty. And last, but not least, is the voice we hear in Chapter 4, Jimmi Sixes, an 18 year old former soldier who has seen more than any teen should ever see in battle. These lives will connect and intertwine and collide. Each will need the other; together they will face down some of the most harrowing challenges imaginable.
The structure is what amazed me: long-ish chapters (though none are more than a handful of pages) that to me were like the inexorably slow climb of a roller coaster car up the steep hill. These are followed by some short chapters that are the breathless downhill careening, car plunging toward...what? Certainly toward an ending no one will soon forget. Heart racing, mouth working with no sound: this is a book that will haunt.