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Realistic Fiction

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Realistic Fiction

Section 6: Fiction (Realistic)

Hush by Jacqueline Woodson

 

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2002. Hush. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN: 0-399-23114-5.

 

Hush is the dramatic story of young Toswiah, whose family is being protected by the government in the witness protection program.  Toswiah has to change her name and leave everything and everyone she has ever known behind because of her father’s involvement in a case against two fellow police officers.  The struggle of each of the family members to find meaning in their new lives is a focal point of the book and in the end each one comes to peace with their new selves in a very individual way.

 

Woodson does an amazing job of characterization.  While I hope I never know first hand what being in this situation feels like, through the characters in this book I feel like I have experienced each of their struggles vicariously.  Each member of the family is so fully developed that the reader is able to identify with all of them and not only Evie (Toswiah) the main character.

 

One thing that was done extremely well in this book is the avoidance of stereotyping.  Toswiah and her family are African Americans; however they do not fit the typical stereotypes.  The father is a well respected police officer, and the mother is a dearly loved teacher.  They live (originally) in a good neighborhood in prominently Caucasian Colorado.  Both girls are popular and interracial dating is mentioned so casually as to assume that, the thought that anyone may have a problem with it is so absurd that it is hardly worth mentioning.  The characters in this book are “people” plain and simple, the fact that they are black is incidental and while it plays a role in the reason they are placed in the witness protection program, beyond that it is not terribly important to characterization.

The plot of this book did deliver what I felt like would be a realistic slice of life for a family in this particular situation.  The different coping strategies that each member of the family employs are appropriate and realistic given their situation.  While depression and hopelessness plague the entire family, each find comfort eventually in either religion, education (escape), sports, or in peace with themselves.  Even though, in the end everyone realizes that they can never go back to the way things were before and that their lives are forever changed, there is a definite hopeful tone that things can get better and that the outcome of their lives depends in great part to their outlook.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and felt it was realistic fiction as it was truly intended.  Not to promote one agenda or another, but to truly offer a glimpse into what life might be like for someone else.  Anyone who ever wondered what it would be like to leave their life behind and start over new somewhere else would appreciate the stark reality of what such a change would actually be like.  Not only does this book let readers have a glimpse of what being in the witness protection program might be like, but it offers a new appreciation for the people and places that we all too often take for granted. 

 

 

Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis

 

Ellis, Deborah. 2002. Parvana’s Journey. Berkeley, CA: Groundwood Books. ISBN: 0-88899-514-8.

 

Parvana’s Journey is the story of a young girl in Afghanistn who is on a journey to find her mother and her siblings following the death of her father.  Parvana is masquerading as a boy to travel more easily through country controlled by the Taliban.  Throughout her journey, Parvana meets other children who are also attempting to survive on their own in this hostile environment.  The four children band together and form a family of sorts who are all trying to survive and find a place of safety.

 

The setting in Parvana’s Journey provides the backdrop to the story and in many ways makes the story authentic.  The war-torn mental image of Afghanistan is brought to life through the amazing descriptions of not only the landscape but of the culture and survival mentality of the main characters and peripheral characters as well.  While the current situation in Afghanistan has changed in the way of leadership, the Taliban rule and general living conditions are still close enough to the present to evoke a better understanding for children outside of the culture of what life could be like in this foreign land.

 

The characterization is beautifully done throughout this book.  The age and gender related expectations within this culture are thoroughly integrated even though an integral portion of the plot requires Parvana to ignore these roles for a time as a means of survival.  The children in the book have enough universally childlike thoughts to allow children not familiar with this culture to relate to them.  This aspect of characterization is especially important with multicultural literature.  It allows the reader to better understand what the world is like, and permits them to empathize with the struggles of children around the world.  Parvana, Asif and Leila are all such likable characters, however they all have flaws.  It is the presence of these flaws that make them real to readers.  These characters could be real children and it is that sense of realism that makes this book so poignant.

 

I found this to be an excellent book and it helps to fill a large void in children’s literature for materials related to the Middle East.  Multicultural literature is such an important part of educating young people about the world and the people in it.  With so much of the adult world’s focus on the Middle East it is important to provide young people with a way of understanding that culture as well.  Parvana’s Journey does just this, it offers a glimpse of life in war-torn Afghanistan, and a frame of reference for children to better identify with a culture that is foreign to them.

 

 

Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech

 

Creech, Sharon. 1990. Absolutely Normal Chaos. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN: 0-06-026992-8.

 

Absolutely Normal Chaos is the story of Mary Lou, a young girl who has been given the assignment to keep a journal over the summer for her new English teacher.  The summer proves to be eventful, with the coming and going of best friends, a new boyfriend, and an unexpectedly mysterious cousin who ends up spending the summer with the Finneys. 

 

This book is written as a first person account in a diary form, the voice of Mary Lou is extremely authentic.  Having been a thirteen year old girl myself, I was able to recognize Mary Lou and other character’s behavior as being very fitting to that time in adolescence.  This brings us to characterization, I felt that the major characters were very well developed, which is especially impressive considering that the book is presented entirely through the view of one character.  While all characters do not receive the same amount of attention, there are two or three others besides Mary Lou who the reader gets a pretty thorough understanding of.

 

There are several co current plots in this story.  The first and probably most important is the story line of cousin Carl Ray.  Through this plot line, readers are able to appreciate that people have layers and not everything or everyone is how they may seem at first.  The other major aspect regarding plot is the relationships between Mary Lou and her best friend Beth Ann, as well as between Mary Lou and her boyfriend Alex.  These two story lines capture some of the common peer relationship issues that early adolescents often face.  Mary Lou’s distain for Beth Ann’s “mushy” behavior when she describes (or doesn’t describe) her boyfriend becomes comical when Mary Lou herself exhibits this same mannerism when she and Alex become an item.  However the realism of the feelings that she expresses rings true for peer relationships at that age.

 

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The variety in action was refreshing and never dull.  Readers will not only enjoy the lively story, but gain an authentic understanding of what living in a family of five siblings might be like.  For children who are only children or only have one or two siblings, this book may be a real eye opener in this respect.  I do have to admit that I would not think that boys would enjoy this particular book, mostly due to all of the “mushy” descriptions about the young girls’ boyfriends, however the Carl Ray plot line does balance the scales on that nicely.

 

 

The Dream Bearer by Walter Dean Myers

 

Myers, Walter Dean. 2003. The Dream Bearer. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN: 0-06-029521-X.

 

The Dream Bearer is the story of young David, an African American boy who lives in the city with his mother, father and brother.  David’s family life is far from perfect, with his older brother showing signs of drug use and involvement with the wrong sorts of people, and his father who is suffering from mental illness which often causes him to be violent.  David is intrigued one day when he and his friend Loren meet an old man in the park who claims to be over 300 years old, and a dream carrier.  When the man, Mr. Moses, begins telling some of his dreams to David, they form a bond and David begins to develop his own dreams, some good, some painful.   

 

The characters really make this book what it is.  Each is very distinct and provides readers with a completely different experience.  The characters are all very believable with the exception of Mr. Moses who seems very mysterious and is not presented as a three dimensional character, however, that may have been intentional since he is a catalyst for David’s maturation.  Besides Mr. Moses and Sessi, a peripheral character, David’s mother is the positive force in the book for David.  While he struggles with his realization about the destructive path his brother’s life has turned to, and as he comes to terms with his father’s condition, it is his mother who is the glue that hold the family together.

 

The overarching theme of this book is probably that sometimes life is hard, but you can get through it.  The dreams that you carry, are a part of you and your past, so you should learn what you can from our experiences both positive and negative.  The dreams are there to remind you of those lessons in the future.

 

I enjoyed this book even though I did not expect to.  I found the relationship between David and his father and the way it evolved to be especially interesting.  I think that this book would be very helpful to children who have a family member with mental illness or for children to better appreciate and understand what that type of disease does to people and those around them.  This book was extremely well written and will captivate readers through its various plots and characters.