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Sonnenblick, Jordan 1969–

Sonnenblick, Jordan 1969–

Personal

Born July 4, 1969, in Fort Leonard Wood, MO; married; children: two. Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A. (English), 1991.

Addresses

Home—Bethlehem, PA. Office—P.O. Box 20070, Lehigh Valley, PA 18002-0070. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

Author and educator. Taught middle school in NJ and elementary school in PA.

Awards, Honors

Book Sense Picks for Teens, 2004 and 2005, Borders Original Voices selection, and Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, 2007, all for Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie.

Writings

YOUNG-ADULT NOVELS

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, DayBue Insights (Ketchum, ID), 2004.

Notes from the Midnight Driver, Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Zen and the Art of Faking It, Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Dodger and Me, Feiwel and Friends (New York, NY), 2008.

Sidelights

Jordan Sonnenblick is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels for young adults, including Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie and Zen and the Art of Faking It. A former middle-school English teacher, Sonnenblick often bases his works on events from his own life. When the younger brother of one of his students was diagnosed with cancer, Sonnenblick tried to locate a book that would help her understand the disease and cope with her fears. "I couldn't find a book to help her, so I decided to write one," he recalled to BookPage contributor Heidi Henneman. This decision resulted in Sonnenblick's fiction debut, Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie.

Sonnenblick wrote the manuscript for his first novel in only twelve weeks, as he told interviewer Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations online. "The research task was massive; I wanted to write about cancer realistically enough that the book would stand up to the most intense scrutiny from people who knew EVERYTHING

about cancer," he recalled. "Fortunately, my childhood best friend is a pediatric oncologist, so he was my research guru." Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie focuses on Steven Alper, a smart, well-adjusted eighth grader whose life revolves around school, jazz band, and his pursuit of the lovely Renée Albert. When Steven's five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, is diagnosed with leukemia, the teen's life takes an unexpected and dramatic turn. According to Horn Book reviewer Claire E. Gross, Sonnenblick's "novel wisely avoids a resolution of Jeffrey's illness, focusing instead on the family's painful process of adjustment." The author "perceptively records the struggle within Steven to lash out against his parents for feeling neglected and to feel compassion for his brother," a critic observed in Publishers Weekly, and Ilene Cooper wrote favorably in Booklist about the "reality, rawness, and the wit Sonnenblick infuses into Steven's first-person voice." Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie "does not miss a single emotional beat," Joel Shoemaker concluded in School Library Journal.

Like Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, Notes from the Midnight Driver was also inspired by an episode from Sonnenblick's teaching career. After his class behaved poorly for a substitute teacher, Sonnenblick asked the students to write letters explaining their behavior; they responded to the exercise with apathy. "They were flippant, self-serving, non-responsible, blaming notes—so much so that I couldn't even send them to the parents," he told Henneman. The theme of responsibility is at the center of Notes from the Midnight Driver, "a funny, bittersweet tour de force," according to Booklist contributor Frances Bradburn. Alex Gregory, the novel's sixteen-year-old narrator, is assigned to one hundred hours of community service after he gets drunk, steals his mom's car, and destroys his neighbor's lawn gnome. While working of his penance at a local nursing home, Alex meets grumpy Solomon Lewis, and the pair forges an unlikely friendship through their love of music. According to Kliatt reviewer Paula Rohrlick, Notes from the Midnight Driver is "genuinely heartwarming and entertaining, in the best senses of the words." James Blasingame, writing in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, called the work "touching, hysterical, and insightful, sometimes even on the same page."

In Zen and the Art of Faking It, eighth-grader San Lee, an adopted Chinese teen whose father sits in prison, creates an unusual persona to help him fit in at his new school. Using his limited knowledge of Buddhism and Taoism, San convinces his classmates, including the adorable Woody, that he is a Zen master. "The story moves at a brisk clip, and San's first-person narrative … is filled with funny asides," noted Cooper. "San and his predicament are a delight," observed Paula Rohrlick in Kliatt, the critic adding that Sonnenblick "manages to make them both feel completely real."

Although Sonnenblick's stories deal with serious themes, they are also infused with humor. "I basically think the world is a hard place, so people have to be good to each other," the author told Publishers Weekly interviewer Jennifer M. Brown. "I've learned from [writer] Frank McCourt, partly because he was my high school writing teacher and also from Angela's Ashes, that the funniest parts of life are often wrapped around the saddest parts. It's the bonus that makes life livable."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 15, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, p. 63; October 1, 2006, Frances Bradburn, review of Notes from the Midnight Driver, p. 52; October 1, 2007, Ilene Cooper, review of Zen and the Art of Faking It, p. 68.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 2005, Deborah Stevenson, review of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, p. 156; January, 2007, Karen Coats, review of Notes from the Midnight Driver, p. 231.

Horn Book, January-February, 2006, Claire E. Gross, review of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, p. 89; September-October, 2006, Claire E. Gross, review of Notes from the Midnight Driver, p. 597; November-December, 2007, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Zen and the Art of Faking It, p. 686.

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, November, 2006, James Blasingame, review of Notes from the Midnight Driver, p. 238, and interview with Sonnenblick, p. 240.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2005, review of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, p. 983; September 15, 2006, review of Notes from the Midnight Driver, p. 968; September 1, 2007, review of Zen and the Art of Faking It.

Kliatt, September, 2005, Claire Rosser, review of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, p. 15; November, 2006, review of Notes from the Midnight Driver, p. 15; September, 2007, Paula Rohrlick, review of Zen and the Art of Faking It, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, December 12, 2005, review of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, p. 68; September 18, 2006, Jennifer M. Brown, interview with Sonnenblick and review of Notes from the Midnight Driver, both p. 55; October 8, 2007, review of Zen and the Art of Faking It, p. 55.

School Library Journal, October, 2004, Joel Shoemaker, review of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, p. 178; October, 2006, Shannon Seglin, review of Notes from the Midnight Driver, p. 173.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 2004, review of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, p. 396.

ONLINE

Bookpage.com,http://www.bookpage.com/ (November 20, 2007), Heidi Henneman, "Self-serving Students Inspire a Teacher's Teen Novel."

Cynsations,http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ (December 22, 2005), Cynthia Leitich Smith, interview with Sonnenblick.

Jordan Sonnenblick Home Page,http://www.jordansonnenblick.com (November 20, 2007).

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