Thursday, May 7, 2020

Review - The Shared Room

The Shared Room
by Kao Kalia Yang
illustrated by Xee Reiter
Date: 2020
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A family gradually moves forward after the loss of a child—a story for readers of all ages

When someone you love dies, you know what doesn’t die? Love. On the hot beach, among colorful umbrellas blooming beneath a bright sun, no one saw a little girl walk into the water. Now, many months later, her bedroom remains empty, her drawers hold her clothes, her pillows and sheets still have her scent, and her mother and father, brothers and sister carry her in their hearts, along with their grief, which takes up so much space. Then one snowy day, the mother and father ask the girl’s older brother, “Would you like a room of your own?” He wants to know, “Whose?” They say, “Your sister’s.”

Tenderly, and with refreshing authenticity, beloved Minnesota writer Kao Kalia Yang tells the story of a Hmong American family living with loss and tremendous love. Her direct and poignant words are accompanied by the evocative and expressive drawings of Hmong American artist Xee Reiter. The Shared Room brings a message of comfort and hope to readers young and old.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a depressing picture book. And though I can see what the author was trying to do here, I can't really recommend this one.

The book is about a family whose eldest daughter drowned the previous summer. Everybody is quiet and depressed. Finally, the parents decide to let the eldest son (who had been sharing a bedroom with his younger brother) have his sister's room.

That's really all there is, as far as plot goes. The text is wordy and rather dense, and would probably be a challenge as a read-aloud title. I don't know who this book would necessarily appeal to, other than children who might have lost a sibling. But I would definitely not recommend it for that group, either. This quote is a good example of why:

Several times each day, the mother or the father opened the door to their daughter's room, went in, sat on the floor beside the bed, leaned their head into the sheets and the blanket, sniffed deep, closed their eyes, and sometimes hoped to never wake again.

Kids who've just lost a sibling don't need to also worry about their parents dying!

I'm also a little confused as to why the older brother got the empty bedroom. Would it not have been easier and less emotional for everyone to put the baby sister in there and let the boys continue to share? We're dealing with limited bedrooms, and now we've got a brother and a sister having to share. That's not going to work very well in a few years. Plus, the baby wouldn't necessarily be emotionally distraught at the thought of sleeping in her dead sister's room, as the older boy was.

The illustrations didn't impress me at all. I don't like the watercolour style used here. There's also one very confusing picture of a crying person. Judging by the text, it's probably the brother. But the person has grey hair (in previous pictures of the boy, his hair was dark).

Overall, I can't recommend this. I have read some decent picture books about dealing with loss and grief, but this isn't one of them. I would be afraid of causing further upset to a child by introducing the idea that their parents want to die and leave them behind.

Thank you to NetGalley and University of Minnesota Press for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

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