Monday, January 20, 2014

2010 - When You Reach Me

I ran across this book the other day when I was skimming the titles in the children's book section at my local Goodwill. Hmm, kind of an ambiguous title. The spine said Yearling Newbery. Hadn't heard of it or the author, Rebecca Stead before. I pulled it out, thinking that it was an honor book. But no, there was that golden seal. Why not? So I put it in my cart.

I thought I was going to get a real-life coming of age story. Twelve-year old girl, her single mom, living in an apartment in the city, the mom's dreams of getting ahead a little bit by winning a tv game show. It seemed to start out that way, but with the strange plot device of the girl, Miranda, writing the book as a letter or story to an as-yet unknown character.

A little bit of a mystery is like a little bit of a fishhook, catching your mind and attention, just a little bit at first. But then the hook begins to set, and the line plays out, and you get a delicious anticipation of how and when it will all be made clear. The clues are there, and you think you might know what's up, but are always aware that the author hasn't given enough away that she can't end it with something you didn't anticipate. In this manner, it reminds me of The Westing Game, another Newbery book. It might remind you of another book too, but I'm not going to give anything away. You will have to read this yourself!

I paid $1.49 for this at Goodwill.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2000 - Bud, Not Buddy

This book, by Christopher Paul Curtis, languished on my bookshelf for awhile before I got around to reading it. It looked like a meaningful book, grounded in reality rather than a nice escapist fantasy piece, which is where my mood often seemed to be. Finally I picked it up and began. The first sentences hooked me.

"Here we go again. We were all standing in line waiting for breakfast when one of the caseworkers came in and tap-tap-tapped down the line. Uh-oh, this meant bad news, either they'd found a foster home for somebody or somebody was about to get paddled."

An orphan story! Orphan stories have lots of good possibilities, and it looked like the action was going to start right away. Two important facts emerge by the middle of the second page. The Great Depression is going on. An orphan is in a precarious position during this economically devastating era. And Bud has a confident sense of self, as he politely corrects the caseworker, "It's Bud, not Buddy, ma'am."

Predictibly, the foster parents that Bud is sent to are abusive, along with their rotten little son who likes to torture all the "street urchins" his parents take in. It doesn't take Bud long to realize he is better off on the lam than with these people, and so he escapes. He knows he cannot go back to the orphanage; they can hardly afford to feed the ones there. But Bud is resourceful and manages to take some kind of care for himself and spend wonderful moments in the public library.

But all along, he has the idea of a plan. In his precious suitcase resides a flyer. His mother had regarded it as precious and special before she died, and so does Bud. The flyer advertises a show featuring a jazz musician and his band. The boy has become convinced that the musician is his dad and begins to plan how to go to where the band is and present himself as the man's son.

I like Bud. I like his moxie. He is intelligent and practical, and is willing to risk to get what he wants.

A young reader can get a very good feeling for that era in our country's history by reading this book, and enjoying a good story with a nice ending at the same time.

I picked this up for a buck fifty at Goodwill.