This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again. ~ Oscar Wilde
As you may have read in my last post, I’d been having more days like this one of Oscar Wilde’s than I’d like, but just lately, I have to say, “I’m back!” I’m writing a lot and ideas are flowing. This is much more fun.
While I was in the mother of all funks, I did a lot of reading. Two of the books I read made me think a lot about my second novel on which I’m doing re-writes. Both had twelve to thirteen-year-old protagonists, likable and engaging characters. One was written in first-person point of view, while the other was close third-person occasionally drifting into omniscient observer. Both feature dysfunctional families that are completely believable and are set in intriguing times and places. One was marketed as a middle-grade book, the other as an adult book. This is particularly interesting to me because I’ve had beta readers from eight to eighty-four. (Not kidding.) Everyone seems to think the book suits them fine. The eighty-four year old was shocked when I said it was written for middle-grade kids. She was sure it was for adults. But I had a thirteen-year-old boy who read it three times and loved every bit of it. I wonder if I’m marketing it correctly to agents and editors. But enough about me; let me tell you about these two wonderful books.
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt is simply one of the finest, most compelling books I have read in a long time. The voice of Doug Swieteck is as clear and direct as any first-person story I have ever read. I hear Doug’s voice in my head, speaking directly to me, as if we had been best friends for years. His father, who doesn’t have many good days, if you know what I mean, is fired, and the family has to move to a small town which will henceforth be referred to as “stupid Marysville.”
My father gave me a box that still smelled like the bananas it brought up from somewhere that speaks Spanish and told me to put in whatever I had and I should throw out anything I couldn’t get in it. I did — except for Joe Pepitone’s cap because it’s lying in a gutter getting rained on, which you might remember if you cared.
|Gary D. Schmidt|
Doug’s mother is sweet and loving and absolutely incapable of standing up to her abusive husband. His brother Christopher is terrified of who he will become and takes his fears out on everyone around him, but mostly Doug. His other brother, Lucas, is in Vietnam at the beginning of the book, but comes home badly damaged – physically and emotionally.
Doug finds a couple of allies at the public library in stupid Marysville and discovers his own artistic talent when he finds an Audubon book on display there. The beautiful prints in the book inspire him, and the librarian, Mr. Powell, engenders Doug’s artistic gifts. He struggles through being the new kid at school and the suspicions of the townspeople after a theft occurs. He struggles at home as Lucas comes home from the war and as his father becomes more abusive and Christopher becomes angrier, taking it out on you know who. When his father’s cruel abuse is revealed to everyone at school, you wonder how Doug will survive this latest horror. But he is a survivor and this up-lifting story is full of strength and beauty. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I love it and will read it again soon.
The Lost Mother by Mary McGarry Morris is one of the most heart-wrenching books I’ve ever read. I remember years ago reading She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb and feeling blanketed by sadness the whole time I was reading it, yet it was beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down. The Lost Mother had much the same effect on me. Told mostly through the eyes of twelve-year-old Thomas Talcott, this tale is set in Vermont during the Great Depression. Thomas, his eight-year-old sister Margaret, and their father, Henry, an itinerant butcher, end up living in a tent after they lose their home and Irene, wife and mother, shattered by the death of her third child, leaves. The children never give up hope their mother will return to them, but it’s clear to the reader there is little hope for that or for much of anything. Perhaps their stubborn hopefulness is the most heart-breaking thing in this book.
|Mary McGarry Morris|
The children are shuffled between a drunken aunt who doesn’t want them, the Farley family, the richest people in town, who want Margaret for her beauty and as a companion for their disabled, pedophilic son, and a wonderful woman named Gladys who is helpless in the face of her cruel father and the Farleys. Mr. Farley sets Henry up to end up in jail, and the Farleys take the children in. Things get so bad and so dangerous for Margaret, that she and Thomas steal money and run away to find their mother. Her circumstances seem great, but they soon learn a dark reality. She keeps them awhile, but it is clear to the reader, if not the children, she is not interested in being their mother. She finally ships them to a local orphanage. (My mother was sent to orphanages a couple of different times during her childhood, and this book gives a very true picture of such places in that time. It was very hard for me to read.)
Years later, he would realize watching his own children, then his children’s children, that it wasn’t just him, but everyone it happened to. Because that’s what growing up is. That’s what it feels like. Like being alone. And strong. Even when you don’t want to be, or think you can’t. You just suddenly are.
This is a story that will touch something deep inside everyone who reads it. It’s a story for all of us. Those who have had a good life will more deeply appreciate it. Those who have not had such a good life, will wonder again how one can be strong enough to survive. But it gives us all hope, and that’s a good thing.
Back to the question of who are these books for – middle-grade, as are the protagonists, or adults. I loved both these books. I’m not prepared to hand either of them to my nine-year-old grandson, but I can happily recommend them to just about anyone else. Enjoy!
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