Rereading: (george) by E.L. Konigsberg

Konigsberg is a writer with an unusually wide range of topics. This, her fourth novel, delves into areas that were unusual and even shocking for kids’ books when it came out in 1970: split personality (perhaps) and drug use.

Ben Carr is a brainy student with a passion for chemistry, but he has a secret. Inside him is another person named (george), who is very different from Howard. (george) is wise about people and relationships, he speaks hard truths that sometimes even Ben doesn’t want to hear, and he looks out for both Ben and his little brother Howard, the only other person who knows about and can speak to (george). Usually (george) only speaks silently in Ben’s head, but when either of them are upset or determined to make a point, (george) can speak out loud in his own voice that’s deeper and different from Ben’s.

Ben has no other real friends, though he’s trying to win the friendship of William in Chemistry class at his high school. When equipment starts disappearing from that class, evidence points to Ben, who likes to take home any unused chemicals. Even their teacher, Mr. Berkowitz, suspects him, and comes to their house to speak to Ben’s mother, who is raising her boys on her own, having divorced their father. The unexpected thing that happens then is that Mr. Berkowitz and Mrs. Carr seem to be attracted to each other, and begin dating.

Ben and (george) are soon feuding over the missing lab equipment and Ben’s interest in William. When Ben and Howard go to visit their father for the holidays, Ben and (george) have an argument out loud that is overheard by Ben’s father and his new wife, who decide Ben is crazy, and must see a therapist. Ben returns home and does see one, but (george) is so angry with him that he won’t speak at all. What happens next between William and Ben, and what Ben and Howard decide to do about it, is a shock to everyone.

I liked this much better reading it now than I did when it came out and I was nineteen or twenty myself. I think I understand it better now, too. Recommended.

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