Friday, March 28, 2008

Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia
by Katherine Paterson
Recommended Age: 10+

This is a 1972 Newbery Medal winner about a misfit farm boy in Virginia who befriends the tomboyish city girl who moves in next door, and how they invent an imaginary kingdom together. The one complaint I have about this book is that there could have been so much more of it; it seems to go way too fast. It is a breathlessly lyrical moment of beauty where one would like to linger for a while, but it’s over so soon.

I suppose that’s appropriate considering the nature of the story, for Jess only has his “girlfriend” Leslie for a portion of 5th grade, and if I tell you that their friendship ends in tragedy you could probably guess a lot of what happens.

But what actually happens is not as important as how this affects Jess; for the real story is not so much about who lives and who dies, or why or how, but about one boy’s good heart and how a brief, bittersweet friendship teaches him to find courage and beauty and goodness and the strength to be his own person in spite of an invisible father, a despicable mother, two bitchy older sisters and two annoying younger ones. Basically, Jess learns to be a man on his own terms, thanks to the gifts Leslie gives him in life and, too soon, in death.

I dare you to try and read this book without getting tears on the page. And to think I only picked it up because I needed to blow time while my mother shopped at Hastings! When she unexpectedly turned up before I had finished the book, I had to buy it so I could read the whole thing, as it magnetically pulled me right to the end.

EDIT: I was very impressed by the 2007 movie based on this book.

Jacob Have I Loved
by Katherine Paterson
Recommended Age: 12+

The 1981 winner of the Newbery Medal takes its title from a Bible verse that says: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.” Like the twins of Biblical lore, there is a bitter rivalry between Caroline and Sara Louise—at least, there is in Louise’s mind. As the nation goes through the anguish of World War II, she is having a rough time of her own.

The years of puberty and growing up are full of confusing and unpredictable feelings, especially for a girl who lives her whole life in the shadow of her musically gifted twin sister. While everyone dotes over the delicate, sweet, and talented Caroline, the tomboyish Louise—known as “Wheeze” to her friends—feels cursed by God and forsaken by man. The pressures she feels are not at all relieved by life on an isolated island in Chesapeake bay, where the men follow the water and the women are almost fanatically religious, where her demented grandmother lives downstairs and the one thing Louise wants—to be able to go crabbing with her father in his boat—is denied her because she is a girl.

This story is a revealing look at a sometimes harsh, often exhilirating, way of life amid the waters of Chesapeake bay. At the same time, it is like a very frank confession, revealing the innermost (and often not the prettiest) passions of a troubled, teenaged heart. But some good does come out of her bottled-up anger and frustration. Louise gradually moves out of Caroline’s shadow, accepts the kind of love her parents cherish for her, and follows her own stars. It is a passionate and colorful journey, full of beauty, laughter, sorrow, and the painful but rewarding experience of growing up.

Ms. Paterson’s other works include another Newbery Medal book (Bridge to Terabithia), a Newbery Honor book (The Great Gilly Hopkins), and two books that won the National Book Award. I gather from the brief bio at the end of this book that her life is at least as interesting as the fictional worlds she has created. Nevertheless, a book, not a life, can be read. I think you will enjoy this one.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

Robbie, Jacob Have I Loved is my favorite YA title of all time. It was published at just the right time for me-- I was in 5th grade when it came out, and read it before it garnered its Newberry. Katherine Paterson is an amazing writer (I also adored "Bridge to Terabithia" but don't reread it much because it is so so sad) and I'm so glad you chose to write about her. Thanks also for the column on Joan Aiken, another of my favorite writers!