The already tense atmosphere in Matt Foster’s house only tightened after his older brother, T. J., was killed in Iraq. Matt moves through the world like a clenched fist, ready to explode. His dad often does explode, with words, and sometimes physically. He also refuses to talk about T. J. or let Matt see any of T. J.’s things. Then T. J.’s footlockers arrive, and immediately disappear behind the closed door of T. J.’s old room. Matt secretly begins looking for his brother among the items inside. T. J. had made a real effort to connect with Matt on his last visit, and the brother Matt glimpsed then is echoed in some of what he finds. But there’s a surprise, too—a huge one. Correspondence and photos hint at T. J. having been in love with Celia, a fellow soldier, and the two of them having a child together. Celia’s letters are postmarked from Madison, Wisconsin, and Matt heads off on an illicit road trip—Pennsylvania to Madison—in hopes of meeting her and discovering more about T. J. What he finds when he arrives is wholly unexpected, and at first unsettling. But T. J. is there after all, in the memories of people who loved him deeply and understand how much Matt, too, loves and misses the older brother he was just starting to know as a man. E. M. Kokie’s intense and deeply moving debut novel is set in 2007 and rooted in wonderfully developed characters and the relationships among them. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center.
Connect with Wisconsin author, E.M. Kokie on Twitter: @EMKokie!
Generate conversation with these discussion questions:
1. Identify points of acceptance for different characters in the book. What factors contribute to these changes?
2. What makes it difficult for Matt to trust people? How does he work through these issues? How do pressures from others along with a sense of urgency contribute to Matt’s challenges?
3. What are the multiple meanings of this title? How do these meanings relate to the plot?