4 stars Shut Up Anne Tibbets Premier Digital Publishing 978-1-9379-5736-0 No. of Pgs.: 110 Ages: 9 to 13* ..................................
Back Cover: Mary's older sister, Gwen, has royally screwed up her life. Not only is Gwen pregnant at seventeen, she's also decided to marry The Creep who knocked her up. Now Mary is powerless to stop her family from imploding. Her parents are freaking out royally, and to top it off The Creep has a gross fascination with Mary while Gwen enjoys teasing her for sport.
Despite her brother's advice to shut up, Mary can't keep her trapped closed and manages to piss off Mom so much it comes to blows. Mary doesn't know what to do, and all her attempts to get help are rejected. When she finally plans her escape, she fails to consider how it could destroy them all.
Twelve-year-old Mary is the classic middle child. She tends to blend in and receives too little positive attention. Her older sister is nasty to the entire family, but more so toward Mary, who she seems to enjoy teasing. When Gwen becomes pregnant, losing her friends and status during her senior year, her behavior intensifies. Marrying a guy who is a loser and treats her badly, gropes after her younger sister, and disrespects her parents as much as she does, has not helped anyone. The entire family becomes singularly focused on Gwen's situation, Gwen's behavior, Gwen's tantrums.
Mary and her brother Paul, are the only two with a somewhat clear picture of the family dynamics. Nonetheless, no one listens to anything Mary has to say about anything, let alone about Gwen, The Creep, or any problem they cause. Instead, her words tend to get her into trouble, many times inappropriately so. Mom has lost her grip on the family. She cannot handle Gwen so she seems to take it out on Mary, who is defenseless. Mom is one Gwen-moment away from a nervous breakdown. She is not handling anything correctly, mostly to the detriment of her middle child—Mary.
Shut Up is supposed to be about Mary and her efforts to save her family, but the main character is either Gwen or the family as a whole. I do not see that as a problem for the story, but it is a problem for the intended reader: the middle grades*, kids ages eight to thirteen. Shut Up is a difficult story to read. It is an honest portrait of how one person can run amok, causing all sorts of trouble for the other members of the family, who are often ill equipped to handle such extreme behaviors. I would not let my middle grade child read this until they were a senior in high school. Shut Up is emotionally draining, with minimal respites from all the problems and horrible behavior.
This is simply a difficult book to read and I cannot see many middle grade kids enjoying this, much less being ready to read it. None of the subject matter will be unfamiliar to kids, but the constant barrage of negatives is depressing. The main character, Mary, is more of a punching bag not only for her sister Gwen but for Mom as well. Mom tends to blame Mary even when she is blameless. Her punishments are excessive and often mean spirited.
Having said all this, I did enjoy Shut Up. Any adult interested in family dynamics and how they can be disruptive to the point of destruction, should read this story. The author does not intensify the drama gratuitously. She has written a gut-wrenchingly real story. So much so, that I wonder whose story Shut Up really is—Mary's or someone real. To be able to write something so authentic without some kind of personal experience would be difficult. Difficult is the operative word. I think Shut Up is something most middle graders are not ready to read. The subject matter is intense, unrelenting, and depressing.
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