If you have ever known a teenager who sullenly withdraws into herself, begins doing poorly at school, denies cutting classes, drinks, lies, steals, and "accidentally" OD's on Christmas Eve—then you might recognize Jennifer Abbot, the 15-year-old protagonist in Joyce Carol Oates' young adult novel, After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away.
After Jenna's mother is killed in a freak car accident in which Jenna is severely injured, she is left feeling guilty (the accident must have been her fault) and angry (rehab is painful, her house is sold to pay for the medical bills, her teachers and friends feels sorry for her) and powerless (she has to move to New Hampshire to live with her aunt- there is nowhere else for her to go). Her father, who abandoned the family years earlier for a new wife and family, is of no help and Jenna's bitterness towards him fuels the flame of her anger and despair.
In her loneliness, Jenna finds acceptance from 'Trina, a bulimic teen who befriends Jenna, but also uses her. A dramatic scene at a party gone bad shows Jenna the direction in which she is heading. Although the reader only sees him briefly, Jenna's one true friend is a young man nicknamed "Crow" who speaks words of truth that resonate in Jenna's heart. His own traumatic experiences (including his brother's death, living with a father who is an injured Vietnam vet, and his own accidents) enable him to come alongside of her and provides the exact help that she needs—a firm hand that pulls her out of her fears and self-incrimination and pushes her to move on with her life.
Oates use of symbolism is powerful. When you read this book, be aware of how birds and bridges are important in the story. I would recommend this to older teens (there are some sexual references in the book, although nothing explicit) and adults. Parents who are struggling to understand their own teen or the effects of peer pressure might better appreciate the iceberg underneath the surface of a teen's "whatever" façade after reading this book. (Harper Tempest, 2006. Recorded Books)
Joyce Carol Oates, After the Wreck, I picked myself up, spread my wings, and flew away, Vietnam Veteran, young adult book, contemporary fiction