Synopsis: When Denny “Donuts” Murphy’s mother dies, he becomes the world’s biggest class clown. But deep down, Donuts just wants a normal life—one where his mom is still alive and where his dad doesn’t sit in front of the TV all day. And so Donuts tries to get back into the groove by helping his best friend with their plan to get dates for the end-of-the-year school dance. When their scheme backfires, he learns that laughter is not the best medicine for all of his problems. Sometimes it’s just as important to be true to yourself.
Huge thank you to Netgalley and Macmillian for giving me the opportunity to review this book. The opinions expressed are purely my own.
Denny’s story beings at his mother’s funeral. He is forced to accept a new change in his life — one that exists without the biggest influence in his life. I knew exactly where Denny was coming from having lost my father back in February of this year. It’s crazy to think how someone you had in your life every day can be gone in the blink of an eye.
I love that Blackstone doesn’t shy away from issues such as cancer in this novel. He doesn’t sugarcoat what cancer does, he makes the argument that regardless of age, cancer is something anyone can understand. What I love is that Denny wasn’t shy about asking questions related to his mother’s illness either. Denny has such a pure heart, he means well, but when loss happens, you soon realize how different you feel as a person.
The interaction between Denny and all the characters is really strong. Manny attempts to make Denny feel like the world hasn’t changed one bit, his teachers attempt to provide a sense of normalcy even if Denny doesn’t entirely think they understand what he is going through, and his father goes through a rough transformation as well: coping in a world without his beloved wife.
Having written pieces on loss myself, I feel like Blackstone hits the after-death-transformation dead on (pardon the pun). Sometimes we behave in ways that make us feel like we aren’t entirely ourselves, we act out because we want what we know isn’t possible, and sometimes we struggle to be ourselves because we feel like a small piece has been taken away. Yet, despite the darkness Denny feels, he gets into some crazy adventures (candy mafia!), goofs off, and still manages to keep a mostly lighthearted tone throughout. He’s a wonderful character who is supported by an equally strong ensemble cast and he makes the topic feel less painful in many ways because of it. The ending really broke my heart and then somehow I felt like it had been stitched back together.
I really commend Matt Blackstone’s efforts in making a realistic middle grade book about loss and how we cope. It’s not an easy feet to get younger readers to read about life and death in such a way where the effort can be truly personal and reflective. I feel like reader’s will have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this book, but ultimately there is such a beautiful story here that I can’t help but recommend. Denny is so easy to root for.