Sunday, April 3, 2016

Brothers Below Zero

Brothers Below Zero
by Tor Seidler
Recommended Ages: 11+

This short novel struck a chord deep inside me. It features two brothers born 14 months apart, the younger of whom is an A student, a top athlete, a popular guy, and pretty much good at everything. John Henry is even taller than his "big" brother Tim, who gets C grades, carries a paunch around the middle, and hasn't found anything he is particularly good at. Then Tim starts taking painting lessons from his great aunt Winnie, who lives up the road, and suddenly a talent for art is revealed.

For John Henry, suddenly not being the best at one thing stirs up an inward darkness he is not used to having to resist. For Tim, having the one thing he is good at turned against him provokes a crisis that leads both boys to be caught outdoors during a Vermont Christmas blizzard, looking death in the face as they work out what has arisen between them.

A sneaky touch of magical realism proves to be the key to this brief, directly told story. I said it struck a chord in me, because I have a brother separated from me by 16 months in age, and when we were about as old as Tim and John Henry, we had similar issues between us. I don't remember a helicopter rescue ever needing to be called out for us, though. That would have been rather exciting. I imagine a lot of people, with or without sibling issues in their past or present, will feel these boys' conflict in their hearts, and will await the outcome of their struggle for survival with intensely felt concern.

And then there's that touch of magic, which may give many readers a chill quite apart from the vividly described winter weather. Seidler, for that matter, shows a knack for vivid scenic description that really works well with a story featuring a talented young landscape artist. He makes you wish you could see the mental photographs Tim takes of the natural world around him. And he ensures that you will be interested in his other titles. These include something called The Wainscott Weasel, which I have heard compared favorably to Charlotte's Web; as well as Mean Margaret, and several other well-known books.

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