|Patricia McCormick’s My Brother’s Keeper isn’t as good as Sold. This novel’s hero Toby just wants life to return to normal and that’s not going to happen. The best he can hope for s that things get better. After his father left, his mother checked out emotionally and the family has no real adult at the helm. Toby’s older brother Jake is using drugs and hanging out with losers. His younger brother Eli is too young and dreamy to really get what’s going on in the family.
That leaves middle child Toby to hoist the world onto his shoulders and try to keep things normal. The only wise person in Toby’s world is Mr. D. the owner of a baseball memorabilia shop who gives Toby words of wisdom and a rare baseball card. The minute Toby got the card, I knew Jake would get it and sell it.
After the dad, who never shows up or calls, abandons the family, money troubles increase. Mom was catatonic for a spell and now works at a hair salon where she meets a new boyfriend. Her dating, which was clandestine at first, makes the mom seem very adolescent.
I felt sorry for Toby, but he was tackling an impossible problem. Obviously, he couldn’t and probably shouldn’t have covered for his brother for so long.
At the climax, mom’s on a date when Eli and Toby fight over the cat. Jake’s out with his druggy pals. Eli goes out to rescue the cat and guilt compels Toby to find Eli. He can’t and return home at 11 pm to find the police at his condo. The police found Eli dangerously close to the highway trying to get the cat and they also found Jake who’s in custody and destined for rehab.
In the real world when a parent goes out and the kids were in such situations, the police would be derelict not to take the kids to child protective services. They’d have to investigate the mother, but McCormick doesn’t go that route.
This slice of life novel doesn’t end with a bow, but it also doesn’t offer much hope. I bet Jake’s back on drugs and unless the new wealthy boyfriend marries mom, the other two boys don’t have much future ahead of them. I like McCormick’s style, but got sick of the narrator and wished there were more characters. Poor Toby has one friend that we don’t see enough of and there are no other relatives in his life. It’s depressing how isolated these people were on their own. Also there were no chapter breaks. I longed for some.
I’m reading about novel writing now and such books exhort writers to ensure that if you take the character at the end of the book and place him in a circumstance similar to his first problem at the beginning, he’ll behave very differently. I’m not sure Toby would despite anything he says. The plot does not follow conventions of featuring a hero who takes action or changes significantly. I expected Toby to come forward and alert the mom to what Jake was into. Now that wouldn’t happen in real life, but I wanted Toby to do something and that’s what the family needed.
I can see that McCormick wanted something edgy, but this just didn’t satisfy.