Seeing by Joseph Falank is a novel about a kid named Jake who has a couple different tragedies happen to him. The book navigates us through it with Jake as he battles with it himself.
I heard of the book on strong recommendations and so I reached out to the publisher, Winter Goose Publishing, for a review copy, which they very kindly gave me. Unfortunately I have to say that I cannot recommend it, which I regret because I was really hoping to enjoy the book.
Seeing starts with the main character at a funeral, but we don’t know exactly how we got there. Obviously the start is meant to hook the reader, which it does. The book then proceeds us to take us back to the days leading up to the death, in Jake’s life at school.
We find Jake at school, competing in a race for Field Day. Although he is going up against a girl who runs for the school team, he manages to beat her, to his great surprise. We are also introduced to a kid named Andy, who is new to the school and doesn’t have any friends.
Soon we meet Jamie, who used to be Jake’s best friend but is now his “best enemy,” as the book says. By winning the race Jake has qualified to face Jamie on Field Day. Jamie bullies him and tries to fight him, and he is consoled by his grandfather. His grandfather and he are living together and have grown especially close since Jake’s father simply walked away. Jake’s mom also has a new boyfriend Tim, who Jake understandably doesn’t like.
Jake gets help from his grandfather to train for the race on Friday for Field Day. His grandfather inspires him to increase his time all the way from 12 seconds to 10, and promises that nothing will keep him away from being there at the race.
Jake’s grandfather and he talk about death and Jake’s grandmother. I wouldn’t go into this much detail in the story if I was recommending it, but since I am not it is necessary to fully explain why. So Jake’s grandfather dies, and Jake is of course devastated. Andy comes over to his house to say he’s sorry, and Jake decides to invite him to play baseball, after which they become kind of friends. Tim also talks with him and they become a little more tolerant of each other.
When Jake goes to school, Jamie continues taunting him and attacking him, and soon Jake pummels him. The principal isn’t too mad at him because he knows what’s happening in his life and how Jamie has been bullying him all year.
There have been hints of a romance between Jake and Zoey, the girl he beat in the race, all book, and she reveals that she purposefully threw the race against him to make him feel good because she thought he needed the boost. Jake decides to do the race, even without his grandfather there, and he manages to win and defeat Jamie. He feels better at the end and looks forward to a better year in eighth grade than in seventh.
There are several things that I consider lacking about the book. First of all it’s centered around tragedy, which isn’t really too attractive to me. When I read a book like this I can’t help but chuckle. All the things wrong in the world and this book I’m supposed to be reading for my own pleasure can’t help but tell me about even more.
That’s not to say that stories can’t be have death or horrible things happen; I love many that do. But the book doesn’t revolve around them; the book is about what the main character does in response to it. In the On the Run series, for example, which is one of my all time favorites, Aiden and Meg’s parents are in jail for life of terrorism and they are stuck in a juvenile detention farm. They break free from the farm and run around the country to prove their parents’ innocence, avoiding deadly terrorists and the FBI.
If a comparable book to Seeing had been written for that series, it would consist of Aiden and Meg lying around, depressed and trying to get over it, wallowing at their prison farm, but not doing anything. Do I want to read about that? Not a chance. Do I want to read about them being heroes and saving their parents while making monkeys out of the government? Oh, yeah.
This is the big problem with Seeing: Jake does absolutely nothing in the book. Sure, he wins a race at the end, and beats someone up, but that’s really not good enough to have a whole book around it. I want to read not about what happens to kids, but what the kids do. Jake does nothing of note.
Another big problem is that a ton of the book is fluff. You can literally read this 203 page book in fifteen minutes because you can completely skip over multiple chapters without missing a single thing. All of that space was spent in saying cliches and making observations, none of which was really all that beneficial to the story.
There are other problems with the book as well. Zoey throwing the race for Jake doesn’t make any sense, nor does Jake’s reaction. I don’t really think a teenage cross country racer would throw a race, and the action doesn’t make sense. Zoey says that she was helping him back up, when in reality by throwing the race she was setting him up for far more potential humiliation by getting smoked in the final by his worst enemy in front of the whole school.
Plus, I really don’t think that letting someone else win a competition is a good way to look out for them. I’ve run in races in the past, and let me tell you that if someone intentionally did poorly and let me win, I would be absolutely furious. Jake, however, surprisingly considers it a good thing.
To me one of the worst scenes in all of children’s books is the last scene in Crash where the narrator kid throws the race to the Quaker kid. Being nice and a good person is great, but the purpose of a competition is to judge who can compete the best, period.There’s nothing personal to it, and there’s nothing special to it.
If I’m racing someone I don’t care if I turn out to be faster in that given race or the other guy does, but I’m going to give it all I’ve got, and I think that’s the right way to go about life. So not only is Zoey throwing the race unbelievable, but it also gives the wrong message by promoting something like as being a good thing to do, instead of promoting working your hardest and doing your best.
This goes back to another problem in the book; Jake is described as “invisible” and “hiding,” which really doesn’t make much sense to me. Basically what it’s implying is that since his father’s desertion Jake has become more withdrawn and doesn’t have as many friends, and that’s a bad thing and he needs to learn to come out of it. To me, however, he seems perfectly fine. Sure, he’s upset about his dad leaving, but who wouldn’t be? He may not have a ton of friends in the seventh grade, but is that really such a bad thing?
It’s a problem I’ve seen in a lot of children’s/YA books where the author describes someone as being in bad shape or having something wrong with them, but most of the time there is no evidence to support that conclusion. Things in the real world are not so cut-and-dried and people are not categorized into boxes that say “ok and where he should be” and “struggling and needs help.” In actuality, almost everyone is really fine and simply living the life that seems the best to them, including Jake. So character growth and struggles are awesome, but trying to simply say that something is wrong with a character is to me a losing proposition.
I will say I love the idea of Jake getting inspiration from his grandfather, since I really look up to mine (now deceased). But it seemed to me that, starting the book from the funeral and then going back, the author made the grandfather the one really likable character just so he could kill him off. It definitely wasn’t cool to use him as a tragedy inflicting tool like that. Not that a great character can’t die like that in a book, of course, but for it to work there has to be a lot more to the book and a lot more action from the kid, as I already said. Still, the grandfather character while he was alive and his interactions with Jake were well done and the best part of the book to me.
So now you can tell why I don’t recommend this book. I commend the author for what was surely his hard work to write the book as well as Winter Goose Publishing, a small publishing company that has gone out of their way to promote this book and seems to be a house that authors should love. But because of the large flaws in the basic structure as well as in more specific aspects of the book, I cannot advise reading it.