Hunter is having a pretty good life. At 16, he has friends and baseball and a great family…or so he thinks. When the light is shined on his father who then goes to prison, Hunter unravels. He’s so angry and hurt and when he explodes in a fit of rage at school, he not only causes property damage, but he accidentally hits a teacher. Hunter’s mother loves him, wants to help him, and sends him to a mental health facility.
Hunter feels he doesn’t belong with the other kids at the facility. He tells himself he’s not like any of them and keeps his distance. The guilt Hunter carries is destroying him from the inside out and no amount of talking or group therapy will change what happened. If he had been stronger and more aware, he knows he could have prevented what happened and his thoughts won’t allow him to rest.
But something happens when Rosie befriends him and brings him into her group of friends that accept Hunter for who he is. This group includes Stray. Stray has been in foster care for most of his life and has used cutting as a way to deal with his feelings. Stray speaks his mind as he lets Hunter know he likes looking at him and Hunter’s gaze always seems to land back on Stray. Stray and his new group of friends ease Hunter’s loneliness as they watch each others’ backs, but they all have serious issues of their own. The facility isn’t the real world and while Hunter may be falling in love with Stray, his guilt is clawing away at him. Hunter has to not only speak, but listen if he wants to be able to gain back control and balance his life and his family.
Turn the World Upside Down is an exceptional young adult novel that takes on difficult topics and makes them accessible. It is with true talent that the author takes on so many issues in one book, but keeps them appropriate to the genre and also incorporates some of these issues in subtle ways.
The book is told from Hunter’s POV and while it’s truly his story, he meets a cast of characters along the way and they all bring along their own stories. Hunter carries a tremendous amount of guilt that he didn’t know how to diffuse. While it’s discovered in chapter one what happened in his home life, the blurb for the book doesn’t specify this so I’m not going to divulge it here. So Hunter is filled with rage and the author gets his reactions age appropriate as Hunter takes on blame, guilt, and shame.
The author also shows both sides of Hunter’s issue. She shows how Hunter views himself and the situation, but then also at the end brings in the view of one other family member. Reading this as an adult, I was able to see both sides early on, but for the young adult audience there could be teachable moments as well as fabulous insight offered. The secondary characters play an important role in the story and they all shine brightly and they all leave their mark. There are serious, real world issues handled such as eating disorders, extreme social anxiety, and bullying to name a few. All of these characters have a purpose as they propel the story forward. There was a portion well into the story that lagged some for me, but the last section more than made up for it and offers a climax that shakes every character (and possibly some readers) to their core.
I haven’t mentioned much about Stray at this point and he truly deserves all of the mention. Having lived his entire life bounced from one foster home to the next, he gave himself the name Stray so everyone would know he’s accepted who and what he is. Stray is charming and sad and alone with his blue hair and his scars and the drawings on his body. There were earlier parts in the book where I wanted the story to be more about him because he was so intriguing. But a balance is offered as he spends more time with Hunter and his story comes through. The guys fall in love and it’s sweet amongst all the darkness and turmoil in their lives. A moment of bliss as Hunter describes their first kiss:
It’s not my first kiss, and I sure as hell hope it won’t be my last, but it kind of feels like both–first, and last. Best. Only.
The best compliment I can offer this book is that I would greatly look forward to seeing a follow-up with Hunter and Stray later in their lives. Turn the World Upside Down offers a compelling story that offers much to think about for readers of any age.