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Blood Brothers    by S. A. Harazin order for
Blood Brothers
by S. A. Harazin
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The Gardener family - dad, sister Darcy, and Clay traveled by car from Tennessee to Georgia. Unemployed, dad took his family to stay with his Vietnam War friend, Clarence Chancey, who offered them a place to stay. Clay never knew his mom, who died giving birth to him. Dad works long hours and sleeps most of the time when he is home, so conversation is minimal. A loner, Clay's best-friend is Joey Chancey. They grow very close over the years as self-anointed Blood Brothers. Joey is one of the high school's in-crowd, class valedictorian, an athlete, voted most-likely-to-succeed and Student of the Year. But that never comes between the friends.

At seventeen, Clay is the youngest employee in the hospital ER. He aspires to become a doctor, even though money is a barricade. Clay does everything assigned and unassigned, from working as an orderly to administering CPR to a sixteen-year girl in trauma from going through a windshield, and delivering a baby in an automobile. At the end of one night's shift, Clay drops in to see Joey to set things back on track over a tiff they had over a girl named Michelle. 'I trudge across Joey's backyard to the shed ... I feel hopeful - like I have some perspective, and me and Joey, and maybe even Michelle - we're all going to be okay. The air smells green from the tomato vines leaning against the side of the building.'

Pushing open the door, Clay finds everything topsy-turvy, with Joey's clothes in a pile. He finds Joey near the tool shelves, severely drunk and incoherent. Joey is hallucinating. He comes at Clay with a garden hoe and wraps his fingers around Clay's windpipe. As Clay pushes him away, Joey falls, hits his head, and goes into a seizure. A call to 911 brings the EMTs. The police officer says to Clay 'Up against the wall ... I need to search you.' Waiting in the ER for Joey's parents, Clay watches classmates in the ER waiting room giving him looks of disdain. He realizes he's being blamed for what has happened. At his friend's bedside, Joey scraggily writes 'Don't tell anything. Tell doctor to only talk to me ... Explain when I can. 2 hard 2 write. Head hurts.'

Clay is determined to find out what happened at the 'impromptu party in the woods that led to Joey's overdose' but no one is talking. Police Chief Baker shows up at Clay's apartment, asking for his help in finding out who else was at the party. But Clay knows Joey didn't like to give parties. Clay muses: 'Without Joey around, I feel like a lone traveler in a country where I don't speak the language ... there's an emptiness inside me that has nothing to do with hunger.'

S. A. Harazin's exceptional and intense debut YA novel is a heartening story of friendship, hope, compassion, and the potential damage of alcohol and drug use. The answers are not revealed until the very end - which is traumatically sobering, shocking the reader to ask, why? Harazin draws from her own experience as a teen nurses' assistant, going on to nursing school from a hospital scholarship, working in various units. Please don't miss this story of love, sacrifice, self-esteem, and the discovery of unexpected strength.

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