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Saint Iggy

November 21, 2009

Saint Iggy by K.L. Going
published by Harcourt Children’s Books September 1, 2006

So I got kicked out of school today, which is not so great but also not entirely unexpected, and I went back to Public Housing where I live to tell my parents all about it but my mom went visiting someone or other and probably isn’t coming back and my dad is stoned off his ass on the couch like he always is, so somehow I’m not getting the vibe that he’d really, you know, care, so I think – here’s what I’m going to do: first I’ve got to make a plan. And this is part of the plan – making a plan – so really I’m doing good already.

If my dad were awake part of the plan would be telling him about the trouble at school so he would know it was not entirely my fault. This is how it happened:

Me: (coming in late to Spanish class because I followed a hot new girl)
Can I sit here?

Mrs. Brando: (confused) I think you have the wrong classroom.

Me: (correctly) No, I’m in this class.

Mrs. Brando: (really patronizing) Son, it is December and I have not seen you in this class even once before, so I don’t know what classroom you are looking for. Are you new here too?

Me: (being real patient) Nooo, I am in this class and if you’d just check your list from the beginning of the year you’d see that. (under my breath really freaking quietly) Bitch.

Mrs. Brando: (flipping out) Are you threatening me? Do you have a weapon? Are you on drugs? Someone get the principal. Call security. Help! Help! Help!

These opening lines immediately pulled me into the story, and they told me three things. One, this protagonist, like far too many children, is growing up without the protection of stable, caring parents. Second, we have an unreliable narrator. He reminds me of every troubled teen-aged counseling client I ever talked to who, according to his own account, was arrested or suspended from school with minimal provocation. Third, we have a main character who is edgy, funny and endearing.

Iggy Corso’s meth-abusing mother has gone “visiting,” and hasn’t been seen in a month. His father is usually passed out drunk on the couch. So when Iggy goes home to the housing projects after being expelled from school, there is no adult to talk to except for Dad’s vicious drug dealer.

Despite the environment he lives in, Iggy does not use alcohol and other drugs, but his path through life has been slippery. Born addicted to crack, he has attention and learning difficulties. He has been in and out of foster care, due to his parents’
addiction. He has also failed several grades and has been in chronic trouble at school. Nevertheless, he is determined to turn his life around. He comes up with an agenda that includes:

1. Make a plan

2. get out of the Projects

3. do something with my life

4. change everyone’s mind about me

5. get back into school

What will it take to change everyone’s mind about him? What if he does something heroic?

With no place to go, he seeks out his only friend Montell, a law school dropout who’s seeking spiritual enlightenment through illicit drugs. He looks to “Mo” for help and guidance, however he inadvertently leads him to the drug dealer who helped destroy his parents’ and his lives. Then he finds himself in Montell’s family home, with Mo’s mother, a wealthy, kind-hearted lady who’s hiding problems of her own.

There are many compelling moments in Iggy’s journey, which takes him from the projects, through the streets of New York, into drug houses where he searches for his mom, in the heart of a wealthy neighborhood, into the apartment of a young immigrant mother, and inside a church. He is a memorable character, paradoxically limited in understanding and impulsive yet wise and compassionate.

This is the first book I have read by K.L. Going, and I will probably look for more books by this author. She did a convincing job of speaking in the voice of a teenage boy, and she has a good ear for dialogue. She wrote about grim reality, in a way that seemed mostly authentic, yet she also captured glimmers of transcendent spiritual moments, and she managed to seamlessly blend edgy humor, hope, and tragedy. I recommend this novel to mature teens and adults.

Rating:

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