The Way a Door Closes

The Way a Door Closes
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Release Date
May 01, 2003
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My best friend, Preacher, is being just that. His sermon today is on fathers and I am his congregation.
“Dads are light. They have no roots.
One strong wind, and they’re gone.
Out of here. History.”

With a click, a bang, a whisper—or no noise at all. There are so many ways that a door can close, but it’s not just the closing; it’s the knowing. And thirteen-year-old CJ knows too much—about losing his father, about his family’s pain, and especially about what it means to hold things together when times are the toughest.

In this beautifully written and powerfully moving novel in poems, Hope Anita Smith tells the story of a young man’s struggle to accept a father who has walked out on his family. Here, in CJ’s words, is a portrait of hurt and healing, and finding the strength to open the door again.

The Way a Door Closes is the winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe New Talent Award and the 2004 Bank Street - Claudia Lewis Award and is a 2004 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

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THE WAY A DOOR CLOSES is a perfect example of why novels in verse belong in our classroom libraries. At a slim 52 pages, it manages to meet many of my students' needs. Its length is not intimidating to developing readers; if it weren't for the cover illustration of adolescent boys, it could be confused with a picture book. Throughout the book are moving illustrations by Shane W. Evans, which may assist readers who are struggling to paint mental pictures of the story.

While the writing is simple and the length is short, it covers a heavy topic: what happens to a family when the father leaves. Author Hope Anita Smith begins the book with a portrait of a happy family, with thirteen-year-old CJ's observations of his life with his two siblings, parents, and grandmother. When CJ's father loses his job, he withdraws and then one day does not return. Smith handles the subject delicately, showing the repercussions for the family. His mother tries to move on, his grandmother holds the family together, and CJ tries to take on the role of the "man of the house." It isn't easy, but CJ maintain his loyalty to his father and believes he will return. I loved the section entitled, "Diamond in the Rough":

Daddy has always spoken loud
of being black and being proud
of honest pay for a job well done,
a father’s dream for his oldest son.
He gives me words, each one a gem,
words I wish someone had given him.

Smith treats the father with more generosity than he may deserve and it manages to be refreshing. Not all fathers who leave are gone forever. THE WAY A DOOR CLOSES does not delve into what the father's return means, but the sequel Keeping the Night Watch does.

THE WAY A DOOR CLOSES won the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe New Talent Award and deserved it. I was touched by the struggles of CJ and his family, and hope that it can provide hope or solace for boys in similar situations.
Good Points
A common topic is addressed in a unique and fitting way
Great for the classroom
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