“Trouble” by Gary D. Schmidt
No matter what a person does to avoid it, trouble can find him. That’s what Henry Smith learns although his father has always said that staying away from Trouble was easy enough.
The Smiths are a much untroubled family as the story opens—wealthy, they live in a New England mansion that has been in the family for over 300 years, situated in a perfect town called Blythbury-by-the-Sea. Henry’s older brother, Franklin, is a superstar high school athlete and rugby player. Life is good.
One night while he is out running, Franklin is struck by a truck and lands in the hospital in a coma. Life for the Smiths changes overnight as they wait to see if Franklin will live or die. When the alleged driver of the vehicle, Chay Chouan, a Cambodian immigrant, comes forward, the town anti-immigrant sentiments run high. But at the pre-trial hearing, Henry finds out things that he had never known about his brother, including that he had often made fun of Chay and beat him while his friends held Chay down. Franklin’s true character appears to be that of an arrogant, privileged jerk.
Chay is not convicted of a crime, but his family disowns him because they are ashamed of him. Confused and angry, Henry decides that he is going to climb the most rugged mountain in the area, Mount Katahdin, partly because Franklin had told him he wouldn’t be able to do it. Henry’s friend Sanborn, comes along, fearing that Henry will be hurt if he goes alone.
Although it’s a coincidence that the two boys are hitchhiking and Chay picks them up—in the very truck that hit Franklin—as the reader, I believed the story because I understood that Chay was stopping for ‘black dog’—a dog that had been his until his father starved and then threw the dog in the ocean. The three boys then hike the mountain together and we learn more about each of their lives. Chay is the product of a rape in a Cambodian re-education camp and he’s also a protector of Henry’s sister.
The trip results in danger, revelation, a new understanding of the characters, and the opportunity for forgiveness. It brings up issues such as immigration, a bad economy and even the repercussions of slavery. This was a great book and A Junior Library Guild pick. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.