Book: Many Stones

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Many Stones

Author: Carolyn Coman
Publisher: Puffin Books

Sixteen-year-old Berry Morgan lives with her mother in Rockville, Maryland, where her mother works as a reading tutor. Berry’s father, a lobbyist, lives in San Francisco with his girlfriend. He comes in and out of Berry’s life unpredictably. A year and a half ago, he showed up at her school with shocking news: Berry’s sister was dead. While working as a volunteer at a school in Capetown, South Africa, Laura had been brutally murdered. Now Berry sets out on a two-week trip to South Africa with her father to attend a memorial service for Laura. He has arranged some other activities as well: a business meeting in Johannesburg during which Berry awaits him at a posh hotel; a guided tour of Soweto by minivan; and three days at Krueger National Park, where they live in round huts and go out spotting giraffes by day and elephants, leopards, and lions by night. Berry and her father’s painful journey forces them to look beyond their own grieving and bear witness to a country’s tortured search for truth and reconciliation.


On a two-week pilgrimage to South Africa from Rockville, Maryland, 16-year-old Berry and her estranged father attempt to come to terms with the murder, a year earlier, of Berry’s sister Laura when she was volunteering at a Capetown school. Angry, sour, and ferociously cynical, Berry struggles with the concept of “truth and reconciliation,” both for South Africa and in her personal life. Her father’s efforts to educate his daughter about the country’s political climate in the wake of apartheid are met with cold resistance: “He makes whatever is inside me catch fire. I hate everything. And I feel ashamed, which, for all I know, is why my father brought me here—Mr. Expense Account himself…” The delicious oblivion she finds underwater when doing laps on the swim team back home—or kissing her boyfriend Josh—or in the comforting stones she likes to pile on her chest when she’s in her room don’t seem to help her move beyond her despair and anger.

Carolyn Coman, author of the highly acclaimed and powerful Bee and Jacky, What Jamie Saw, and Tell Me Everything, seems to have direct access to the souls of troubled teens, plumbing the not-always-pretty depths of her characters. But the current-events lessons and the soul-searching of Many Stones don’t redeem the novel from its heavy, depressing tone that emanates from Berry’s troubled teen self. While the landscape of Berry’s psyche is deftly captured, her surly stance is tiresome and relentless, not letting up until the very last pages when she has “the big meltdown” with her father, and then finally finds her voice at her sister’s memorial service. (Ages 13 and older) —Emilie Coulter
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