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Random Thoughts on What I'm Reading
Roddy Doyle's A Greyhound of a Girl is a book I found in one of the Little Free Libraries that dot Bainbridge Island. In this “grand” novel, a ghost story set in Ireland, four generations of women go on a journey exploring life and death.
There’s 12-year-old Mary, who doesn’t consider herself a child anymore. There’s Scarlett, her mother. There’s Emer, Mary’s grandmother, who’s facing the biggest journey of all: death. And then there’s Tansey, Mary’s great-grandmother, who’s...well, a ghost.
As Mary and Scarlett try to cope with Emer’s fatal illness, Tansey appears to Mary one day. Mary isn’t scared, just curious. At first she thinks Tansey is one of the neighbors. But there’s something odd about her. She fades in and out. She’s young, but dresses and speaks in an old-fashioned way.
Mary and Scarlett accept that Tansey has come back to see Emer, her daughter. They learn Tansey's story: that she died as a young woman, when Emer was only three, and she wasn’t ready to let go of life. As Emer faces her final days, Tansey plans to help her.
When the four women take a midnight journey to the farm where Tansey and Emer lived, a farm that’s been a part of family lore, they discover the powerful bonds that connect them. They also witness the strength and love it requires to say good-bye.
If I’m making this novel sound maudlin, it isn’t. Mary is cheeky, her brothers “Dommo” and “Killer” are hilarious, and Tansey is full of quips.
Best of all is the language. Roddy Doyle writes primarily for adults and is known for his sharp and spot-on dialogue. Here the characters speak in an Irish lilt that will make you start trying to copy them.
Instead, you can reread A Greyhound of a Girl and relive Mary’s journey, which is our journey, too. Ages 9 and up.
I'm continuing my quest to read all the Newbery Award books. The 1972 winner, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien, is a delight.
Mrs. Frisby, a mouse, lives on the Fitzgibbons’ farm. Even though her husband, Jonathan Frisby, had a tragic death, Mrs. Frisby lives contentedly in a cinder block with her four children: Theresa, Martin, Timothy, and Cynthia.
All is well until the day Timothy gets sick. It’s time for planting on the farm, and the Frisby family must move to their summer house along the brook. If they don’t, their house will be plowed under. But Timothy is too sick to move. What will Mrs. Frisby do?
Through Mr. Ages, an elderly mouse, she meets a wise owl who gives her advice: she must ask for help from the rats. The rats? Everyone knows they live beneath the rose bush, but why should they help her? Still, Mrs. Frisby has no choice.
She approaches the rats and meets the extraordinary Nickodemus, Justin, and other rats who have an amazing story to tell. The rats beneath the rosebush are no ordinary rodents. They’ve been used in laboratory experiments at NIMH, where they’ve developed unusual powers. And Mrs. Frisby's husband, Jonathan, had a connection to these special rats. What is NIMH? The author never tells us, but the reader will have fun figuring it out.
I can’t tell you more without giving away too much of the story, but suffice it to say that Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH make a formidable team. This fun animal fantasy has mystery, drama, and suspense. For ages 8-12.
Winner of the 2014 Printz Award for best teen book, Midwinter-blood by Marcus Sedgwick has an intriguing structure and setting: seven linked stories on a Scandinavian island. It's a book of mystery, time, love, and sacrifice.
The time frame is intriguing, too. The first story, "Midsummer Sun," begins in 2073. The final story, "Midwinterblood," takes place during Time Unknown. The book moves backward in time, introducing characters in 2011, during World War II, 1902, 1848, and the 10th century, during Viking times.
Each story features characters named Erik and Merle, or variations of their names. Mysteriously, the first character we meet in 2073 is named Eric Seven, a journalist sent to Blessed Island. He's investigating rumors that people on Blessed can live forever. There he begins to fall in love with a beautiful woman named Merle. But before Eric can get any work done, his mind becomes fogged by the tea he's given, a tea made from the dragon orchid grown on Blessed.
By the time we meet King Eirikr and Queen Melle in the last story, we know that this orchid has dangerous, magical properties. We're not surprised that King Eirikr's story involves blood sacrifice, because sacrifice is a theme running throughout the book.
Each story is also identified by a moon—the Flower Moon, Hay Moon, Snow Moon, Blood Moon--linking the entire book to nature and the seasons. Even futuristic 2073, with its modern technology and cool "OneDegree" app (sort of a Facebook of the future), is tied to agriculture and the weather. Some things never change.
Midwinterblood is a thought-provoking read. When I finished it, I was tempted to reread the book in reverse order, following Erik's journey in chronological order. As the stories unfold, they tell of people who live in the time of the story, but who have also moved between times. Ages 14 and up.
If you want to laugh until your sides hurt, rush out and find a copy of Jack the Castaway by Lisa Doan.
Eleven-year-old Jack just wants to attend school, do homework, and avoid poisonous frogs.
Unfortunately his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Berenson, have other ideas. Their get-rich-quick schemes have involved panning for gold in the Amazon, taking unsuspecting tourists on safari in Kenya, and exporting precious stones from India--all of them a disaster.
When they announce their newest scheme, which means moving to a Caribbean island, Jack has no choice but to go along.
Jack is reminded daily that the Berensons aren't like other parents. They encourage him to eat candy for breakfast, plan to educate him with their "home-schooling thingy," and don't worry in the least after Jack has disappeared for several hours in a foreign country.
When the Berensons launch their new scheme, a snorkeling business, Jack knows it will be another disaster. But he doesn't know it will be his disaster until he finds himself cast ashore on a deserted island circled by a whale shark. His only company is a parrot named Loco whose favorite phrase is, "Bad dog." Not exactly helpful when you're almost out of food and water.
Will the Berensons find Jack? Will they finally follow a checklist as Jack has been begging them to?
Fortunately, the hilarious Jack the Castaway is the first book in the Berenson Schemes series. I'm looking forward to more adventures and misadventures--assuming Jack and Loco get off that island. Ages 9 to 12.