Quaking by Kathryn Erskine, Philomel (June 21, 2007). ISBN: 9780399247743. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
At fourteen, Matt (don’t call her Matilda), has learned that trust is a treacherous thing. It cost her people she cared about as well as biting her whenever she opened herself to others her own age. Those bitter lessons have left her trying to be tough and sarcastic, but feeling like a quivering mess of terrified inside. She’s just been handed off by her religious zealot cousin Loopy on another cousin and his wife.
Sam and Jessica are Quakers who are raising a developmentally disabled toddler. Matt’s initial reaction to their warmth and welcoming is to harden her shell, but as time goes on, that becomes a bigger and bigger challenge for her. Sam, in particular, has an air of disarming honesty that starts to melt her pseudo-toughness as he listens without judgment and shares much of his own life with her.
Meanwhile, she’s being bullied at school, not only by a male student, but by a teacher whose ultra-patriotism makes her life worse because she’s smart and beginning to absorb some of the Quaker philosophy. Her biggest challenge comes after a series of violent acts of vandalism against houses of worship in their town.
As the story comes to a climax, Matt must look deeply within and decide whether she’s had enough to break free and act. This may be an older book, but the themes are highly relevant in today’s fragmented society and the bullying she and other teens endure, continues in schools as well. An excellent book about loss, trust, courage and the importance of caring adults in the lives of emotionally wounded kids.