Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review for Frog by Jeffrey Barbieri

Book Title: Frog
Author: Jeffrey D. Barbieri
ISBN: 978-1-4327-5717-5
Genre and Target Market: fiction; family relationships; coming-of-age
Publication Date: 2010
Book Length in Pages: 256

Reviewed by: Sarah Moore

How often do you read a book that provides you with the accompaniment of a physical ache as you turn every page? I am not talking about a painful reaction due to poor writing or awkward plot development—I have experienced that sensation plenty of times during my tenure in the writing and publishing world. Instead, I am referring to a story or a character so compelling that you cannot help but have an emotional pull to the pages before you. I felt that strong connection to Frog, the new release by Jeffrey Barbieri. The second in a series featuring Benjamin and his complicated family, Frog is a novel that continues with the storytelling and poetic insights that made Barbieri’s first offering, Let’s Find You, so intriguing. But now, Frog extends the desperate expression of a young man looking for love, comfort, and a sense of belonging to an even more gripping intensity.

Frog brings us back into the world of Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers who all seem to express their feelings towards one another with taunts, insults, and the occasional beating. The boys live with their seemingly apathetic mother, who moves her family with great frequency in order to keep a distance from her former husband, and a stepfather who is only ever referenced in passing and who has no apparent influence on the family dynamics other than to amplify the obvious disconnect that always has existed. Benjamin has recently moved to yet another new neighborhood. He misses the girl, Elizabeth, who is the muse for so much of his poetry and who embodies his ideals concerning love and romance. He is self-conscious about his appearance and his lack of ability to engage in conversation, envying his brothers with their seeming ease around every person they meet. Anyone who has experienced those feelings of not belonging (and you’re lying if you say you haven’t), will relate to Benjamin and perhaps revisit some uncomfortable moments of their own.

For me, one of the episodes in the book that most clearly defined the combination of emotional pain and endless hope for something better that Benjamin expresses throughout his storytelling and poetry occurs during a quiet moment with his mom. Benjamin has just been stung by numerous bees and his mom rushes him to the bathroom to clean his wounds and apply a paste to the marks left by the insects. He shares that this medical emergency was the only time he could remember his mom ever showing interest in him or displaying the slightest amount of tenderness. You could tell that, despite the certain pain he was experiencing, Benjamin did not want that moment to end. It was quite a powerful interaction between parent and child upon which I was able to eavesdrop as a reader. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book, hold those two characters in that room, and give them both the opportunity to share all of the feelings that had been forced to repress for so many years.

For those already familiar with Barbieri’s work through Let’s Find You, you can expect to find the same short story format and the continued inclusion of Benjamin’s poetry on more pages than not when you read Frog. And, like before, I believe it is the raw honesty exhibited in each poem that makes the readers stop and really digest an intense episode that has just been described. What Frog also offers, though, is even more of those rare and simple moments when true human bonds are established. While I encourage everyone to read the book to discover Benjamin’s emotional fate, I will share that he does find new sources of strength and rediscovers others that he thought were gone forever. Frog is a wonderful story of survival, love, and that need we all have for human connection.

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