I sat to read Sit by Deborah Ellis while watching the kids – my kids and my nephews – playing blissfully in the pool while on vacation. While I would never say that sadness, hardship, or even violence have never touched their teen and pre-teen lives, the juxtaposition between their lives and the stories detailed in this book were stark.
Sit is a collection of short stories with children or teens in difficult circumstances; children from all over the world facing violence of a mental, emotional, and/or physical nature. They are often soul-breaking situations out of which strength or destruction may come. Most of the stories are unrelated — the exceptions are 1) the first and the last of the same character in his violent situation and then his redemptive one and 2) a brother and sister whose stories are told separately, yet coincide to show how well they know one another and help them find common ground in their parents’ divorce.
All of the children physically sit as some point or another and their sitting comes with introspection and contemplation. The act of sitting and thinking yields an action or decision. Their thoughts affect their identity – the tell the reader about who they decide to be and how they would be known. In this way, there is a spark of hope in each story, which is good as many of the stories are dark.
There are some problems with Sit that have been detailed by other reviewers on GoodReads. The adults are uncommunicative at best and abusive at worst. The children are always portrayed as wise due to their willingness to sit and think. While relationships like those portrayed here are not uncommon, I hope that these contentious relationships are not what our society sees as normative, nor do I desire to show my children that such relationships are the norm.
I think this would be best as a read-aloud book. Because of the weight of topics and the way interpersonal relationships are portrayed, much discussion would be required. Ellis deals with divorce, child abuse and alcoholism, child labor, the Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania, the Holocaust and generational guilt, juvenile detention and solitary confinement, the tsunami that wiped out Fukushima in Japan, and refugees escaping the Taliban hiding in Uzbekistan. The stories are not long and the writing is not difficult, but I would not hand this to a child without intent to discuss — and reading together would be the best.