Maeve Visser Knoth: Some novels I've been reading

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Some novels I've been reading

I haven't stopped reading but I have had trouble finding time to write about it. For months I have had a couple of books sitting next to the desk waiting for their moment in the spotlight. So, here goes.

WHEN I CROSSED NO-BOB by Margaret McCullen is a great one. The novel is set in the post-Civil War South and deals with racism, family loyalty and (of course) growing into one's own. I haven't read McCullen's HOW I FOUND THE STRONG but I know the two books are related. Maybe companion novels, maybe NO-BOB is a sequel, but certainly WHEN I CROSSED NO-BOB stands strongly on its own. Addy is a great character who has to stand up against her own father to see justice done. She loves her father, in spite of his very-real flaws, and it is a wrenching choice to turn him in to the law. I love McCullen's language and her very clear picture of life for Addy.

A very different kind of novel is DON'T CALL ME ISHMAEL by Michael Gerard Bauer. This is a very funny novel about a high school student who sees himself as a huge loser. Most of what he touches fails or so it seems to Ishmael. A new classmate, James Scobie, takes over the role of "target" that Ishmael has occupied his whole school career and Ishmael has to change. The first-person narration is perfect for the feel of the novel. This is a book about spending way too much time suffering over one's own weaknesses so Ishmael's self-centeredness is just right. When Ishmael begins to see the world beyond his own bellybutton, he transforms his own school experience. Bauer's writing can be hilarious and he has a very sharp eye with which he uncovers the lives of high school students.

Christopher Paul Curtis' newest novel ELIJAH OF BUXTON is set in a time and place which as far as I know have not been the setting for any previous children's novels. Buxton is a Canadian community right over the American border, which was founded as a haven for escaped slaves. The history is good. Curtis has researched the community and does an excellent job making it feel real. Elijah, on the other hand, does not feel quite so real. Elijah, the first free child born in Buxton, represents the ideals of the community so it is not much of a surprise that he feels a bit more like an ideal than like a real child. Even so, he is engaging and his adventures make for good reading. Curtis is a good storyteller and the supporting characters help drive the story.



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