Sunday, February 6, 2011

1985 Honor - One-Eyed Cat

It is interesting to me how many authors of children’s literature win the Newbery Award or Honor book more than once. There must be many, many hopeful writers putting out books every year, but there is obviously a smaller group who have the touch that the committee is looking for.

Paula Fox, who wrote One-Eyed Cat, also wrote The Slave Dancer, the Newbery Award winner for 1973. As with The Slave Dancer, the material in this book is not fun, games, and fantastic adventures. Rather it places the protagonist in some uncomfortable positions and then lets his character develop.

Ned Wallis is the son of the minister of the Congregational Church. We learn right away that something is terribly wrong with his mother; she is ill, and the pain of her rheumatoid arthritis is not just her own, but it affects them all. An unpleasant housekeeper sees to their needs. Into this household, Ned’s uncle arrives with a gift for him, a Daisy air rifle. His father is dismayed.

“It’s loaded,” said Uncle Hillary. “All ready to go. It’s time you had a boy’s present instead of an old bone or a dead bug or an ancient coin that wouldn’t buy you a jellybean.”

“Those bones and bugs and carvings you brought Ned were splendid,” Papa said loudly, “tokens, clues to the past, signs for guessing and imagining.” … “What is there to imagine with a gun?... Something dead. That’s what there is to imagine with a gun.”

Ned agrees to trust his father. The gun will go up in the attic until the next year when he turns 14. He is admonished to put it out of his mind, which of course is an impossible thing for Ned to do. We know what he will do next. He will justify a certain sneaking with it in the night, to try the gun just once. But a shadowy movement catches his attention and to his horror, he has shot at it.

When a feral cat with one eye shows up, wounded, at his elderly neighbor’s house, Ned is guilt-stricken and helps his neighbor care for the cat as best they can. But it is Ned’s painful secret, he cannot imagine how he could share it with anyone. And secrets are very hard to bear, tied up in guilt.

Fox’s prose is rich and descriptive. The reader can see, taste, feel and imagine it all through her artful and nuanced language. I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it for a thoughtful, character driven novel.

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