Up On Cloud Nine by Anne Fine
Reading level: Ages 9-12
"Up on cloud nine. A weird expression--and one I've heard about a million times, round about Stol. With him, the normal everyday things often stop mattering." Stol, short for Stuart Oliver, is best friends with Ian James, the likeable young narrator of two-time Carnegie Medal-winning British author Anne Fine's funny, poignant, thoroughly engaging novel Up on Cloud Nine. Currently, Stol is "out there" because he's in the hospital, unconscious and hooked up to machines.
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Outside the hospital he's "out there" because he's wildly accident prone (think paint thinner), a "fantasist" (not a liar, mind you), and a gambler (he bet that their teacher would be dead by Christmas): "he's like one of those jesters in Shakespeare who are allowed to mock the king." Stol also practically lives with Ian's family, essentially abandoned by his busy barrister father, Franklin, and his fashion designer mother, Esme, (who is off in the jungle with models to research "lost-in-the-rain-forest chic").
When Stol ends up broken-boned with a concussion on the ground beneath a top-floor window, Ian doesn't know what to think. The novel follows along with Ian as he combs through all his brotherly memories of his dear, eccentric friend for clues to what might have happened. Through his eyes, we see Stol take shape as the brilliant, mixed-up, "mercurial," "bats" kid he is--someone who vows he will only eat enchiladas and gingersnaps unto death, who makes rafts for gerbils, who has unexplained impulses to fall from great heights. And through his stories we see Ian--a not so wild-eyed but nowhere near dull boy who misses his friend. Best of all are his memories of their Ouija board antics, Stol's wild fabrications, boyhood arguments, and the "Only Child Club" alternating with chapters where Ian is sitting by his friend's side in the hospital figuring out how Stol would score on "The Young Person's Depression Checklist."
"Did Stol jump or didn't he?" isn't the central question in this truly fine, quite psychological, even philosophical novel that paints its characters with clear, powerful strokes. It's about those like practical Ian who are "pinned to the Earth" and those like Stol who are less so, people who take care of people, and other matters of life and death. Highly recommended. (Ages 10 and older)