Not My Fault
by SB Frasca
Genre: Young Adult / Contemporary
Print Length: 272 pages
Reviewed by Tucker Lieberman
A quirky, endearing teen pursues social justice through art in this sparkling YA novel.
Not My Fault is told in the voice of tenth-grader Hy, who’s alternately exuberant, amused, disappointed, and bewildered by life. Hy dreams of becoming a renowned artist, and, like other kids, rides a bike, pets the family dog, omits commas, and is self-conscious about being pudgy and uncool. This is a teen who, like every other human being, discovers we’re all muddling through life, wondering how much can be controlled and how much is a surprise. Frasca handles uncertainty with humor and gentleness.
At home, Mom’s in charge. There’s no Dad. “We have to pretend he doesn’t exist,” Hy says, “because he pretends we don’t exist.” Hy takes a keen interest in the snacks Mom forbids and consequently befriends Mr. Fadikar, who runs F Mart and sells those goodies Hy craves. The kind man seems almost a substitute father. Apart from those adults, Hy’s closest relationship this school year is with the exciting eleventh-grade Belinda. Still wearing an orthodontic retainer, Belinda reports an unplanned pregnancy, putting her in “a whole nother league of teenager.”
Hy definitely wishes to have been named “something normal like Alex or Jamie.” If you must joke about the name, Hy hopes you’ll be original—no “Hy-brid,” please. If a reader were to ask about gender more directly, Hy might respond exactly as Hy did to the question of whether the art teacher is gay: “It pisses me off that anyone still cares at this point. I mean what year is it?”
The phrase that appeals to Hy with almost religious fervor is “Not my fault.” In this novel, the phrase surfaces in Latin, then in Hindi. Though Hy doesn’t speak Hindi, Hy copies the calligraphy into a mural, attempting to publicly defend Mr. Fadikar from the kids who make fun of him. Hy’s leg also bears the same motto in black marker, the words drawn “like tiny rows of ants crossing each other.”
The motto resonates in a dozen ways in Hy’s life. For example, Hy reflects that “a lot of comedy involves roasting people…it’s hard to know where the line of hurt feelings is until you cross it.” That’s just it. Hy’s spot-on there. If you don’t know where a line is, how can you be at fault for crossing it?
That’s one reason why this book can appeal to adults too. As we face each new day, we worry about what we might do wrong, and we have to get our hands dirty to find out. There are no guarantees. If other kids rag on you, you might have to verbally push back a bit. There’s strength in a sense of humor.
As we ride our bikes farther down the road, if we meet with an accident, we may start to believe it’s been our fault. We try to follow those threads of responsibility to their origins. If Dad’s never been around, there might be an intriguing or infuriating story behind his absence, but one thing’s for sure: It was never the kid’s fault.
Not My Fault successfully explores themes of hard choices, loss, and social awkwardness, told by a spunky, well-meaning teen we can’t help but sympathize with.
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