Sonderbooks Book Review of

Louder than Hunger

by John Schu

read by Jeff Ebner

Louder Than Hunger

by John Schu
read by Jeff Ebner

Review posted April 15, 2024.
Listening Library, 2024. 3 hours, 43 minutes.
Review written April 5, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

John Schu is a librarian whom a lot of us other librarians know and love. He's a Mr. Rogers-like person whose big, kind heart shines. Once a school librarian, then he started working for I think it was Scholastic, going to schools around the country, pushing books. He's written The Gift of Story about using books in schools, as well as two picture books, This Is a School, and This Is a Story. And now he's written a middle grade novel in verse that will wring your heart.

The story is of Jake, a 13-year-old boy diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression, who gets put in an inpatient program. The author says at the back that Jake is a different person from him with different details, but their lives are parallel, and he spent time being treated for the same disorders Jake has.

The book is written in verse from Jake's perspective. I started reading the book in print, before my eaudio hold came in. I like the print version, because the poems use type size and positioning of the words on the page. I finished by listening, because that was convenient when I was doing other things, but looked through the print book after I was done to again get the feel for Jake's voice.

And Jake's voice in print tells us about the Voice that haunts him. It tells him not to eat. It tells him he doesn't deserve to take up space, to even exist. It tells him not to trust the doctors at Whispering Pines. It tells him it is all he needs.

The one place Jake truly feels loved is with his Grandma, and he has wonderful memories of watching musicals with her. But Grandma isn't doing well....

However, that link to the things Jake truly loves is ultimately going to be the key to healing.

Jake's journey feels completely genuine. He starts out trusting no one, feeling betrayed that his mother tricked him into going to Whispering Pines. He does better, then has setbacks. And all along, the Voice is working against him, saying he doesn't need help.

When we find out about the relentless bullying in middle school that started his trouble, it just made me so sad, imagining the wonderful human being Jake is (like his creator) being beaten down so brutally.

This entire book rings true, because it's based on the author's own experiences and emotions. It's heartbreaking, yet hope-filled, because little by little, Jake begins to allow others to help him learn how to tell the Voice to be quiet and actually believe that he is worthy of taking up space in the world.

John Schu has spent years talking up other people's books. Now so many children's authors are excited to talk up John Schu's book. There's a foreword from Kate DiCamillo. And of course every librarian who's ever met him is excited about reading it. This book fully deserves all that attention, and I'm so happy that kids across the country are going to be reading it. For kids who can relate at all to Jake, may it bring them hope and healing. And for kids who might ever be tempted to bully someone like Jake, may it help them stop and think and learn a little empathy.

A beautiful book by a person with a big, kind heart.