A note from Headbuzzer: Check out this awesome The New York Times review of Peanut by Ayun Halliday! We've crossposted it below, but you can visit the original post here! Remember to stop by Ayun's board afterwards and chat with her!
Fitting In/Standing Out: Peanut by Ayun Halliday
by Pamela Paul
In high school, there’s a hazy line between the right kind of standing out and the wrong kind, between fitting into the crowd and being just another follower. Veer too far to one extreme and you risk ostracism; too far to the other, and you risk ordinariness.
In “Peanut,” a smart, affecting graphic young adult novel by Ayun Halliday, Sadie Wildhack, a sophomore new to her school, decides a deadly peanut allergy will give her just the right dose of offbeat cachet. If she wears a medical alert bracelet and fabricates stories about close calls with a peanut butter cookie, it will surely pique interest from her new classmates.
It doesn’t turn out quite that way. Sadie could easily be allergic to eggs, gluten and milk as well, but the resident mean girls can sniff out an attention-seeker like a drugstore perfume. “Check out Peanut Butter Cup,” one sneers to another in the cafeteria when Sadie sits with Zoo, a bike-riding Luddite who becomes her boyfriend. Halliday gets their nasty, scrape-at-the-wound behavior spookily right.
Sadie soon realizes she doesn’t actually know that much about food allergies; she became aware of them only after admiring the medical alert bracelet on a girl at the mall the previous summer. (This doesn’t ring quite true; peanut allergies are everywhere these days. You’d have to be home-schooled not to be thoroughly acquainted with the ramifications.) When her homeroom teacher asks for medical forms, Sadie’s in trouble. She Googles her way into the land of EpiPens and anaphylactic shock, but can’t find a way out of the lie she’s constructed. How can she convince the grownups at school she’s truly afflicted and at the same time keep the subterfuge from her mother?
In a social landscape in which an ailment or disability actually confers specialness, a person who does not have Asperger’s or ADHD or a sensory disorder or dyslexia or bulimia risks seeming uninteresting. And being uninteresting is something most teenagers don’t want to be.
Sadie, we grasp, is struggling with identity. Her parents’ recent divorce hovers, nearly unspoken, in the background. Her best friend from her previous school has moved on. And Sadie has manufactured a faux peril in order to avoid very real anxieties.
Hoppe’s panel illustrations are done in a loose, black-and-white pen-and-ink style. Only Sadie’s omnipresent shirt, which goes from tank top to polo to hoodie, according to season, is cherry-red. This highlights her sense of physical and emotional isolation. Hoppe also illustrates Sadie’s thoughts and emotions in inventive ways. A sequence in which she imagines various people’s reactions to her confessing as thought bubbles above her head — each one going pop! as the imagined dialogue sputters — is especially brilliant.
If Sadie’s naïveté isn’t altogether believable, the other characters are credible and likable. Sadie’s concerned mother, goofy and down-to-earth in rectangular-frame glasses, boasts about her easy-to-whip-up gado-gado (with peanut butter!), showing how for teenagers, parents can pose a threat even as they offer solace, especially when the mother-daughter conversations are as realistic, and often touching, as they are in this novel. And Zoo is the kind of boyfriend most mothers would love their daughters to have. His slightly dorky relationship with Sadie is tender and convincing. The teenagers’ dialogue is almost always witty, acerbic and perceptive, and also sweet when it needs to be.
Sadie’s allergy may be fake, but the sentiments in “Peanut” are not, and that’s what matters. For adolescents, reality is often more about how you feel about things than about the facts themselves.
Have you read Peanut, Buzzers? Chat with Ayun about Sadie and her fake peanut allergy on her board!
This review was originally published on NYTimes.com on Jan 23, 2013