Three Books about Outsiders
My stomach is better. But that may be because the ME came roaring in and took over, which is what it does. In this case I think I’d rather be bone tired than sick and dizzy but I’d really rather not be either. But merely tired usually permits lying on the sofa covered in hellhounds* and reading and this is clearly to be preferred over eyes that don’t focus and running to the bathroom a lot. However aside from the considerable entertainment derived from watching Oisin packing up his fancy electronic organ and its 1,000,000,000,000,000 feet of wiring and its 1,000,000,000 component parts this afternoon for the wedding he’s playing tomorrow in a tiny organ-free church, and which I’m sure I could spin out into 1000 words if I had more available brain**, I have done nothing blogworthy today, so I thought I’d suggest a few books for you to read the next time you’re trapped on the sofa with hellhounds.***
WONDER, R J Palacio
Anyone plugged into the kiddie lit world will already know about this one; it’s making a big splash on both sides of the Atlantic right now. It’s about a boy named Augie who knows he’s ordinary—on the inside. “ . . . But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go. . . . I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. . . . Next week I start fifth grade. Since I’ve never been to a real school before, I am pretty much totally and completely petrified. People think I haven’t gone to school because of the way I look, but it’s not that. It’s because of all the surgeries I’ve had. Twenty-seven since I was born. . . . I’m much stronger now, though. The last surgery I had was eight months ago, and I probably won’t have to have any more for another couple of years.” Even that little snippet should give you an idea how immediately convincing and appealing Augie’s voice is. WONDER is about how that first year in an ordinary school goes for a boy who is only ordinary on the inside. (And then again maybe he’s not so ordinary on the inside either.) The majority of the book is told by Augie, but several other people take their turns: I particularly like his sister, Via.
Here’s an interview with Palacio: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/feb/19/rj-palacio-interview-wonder
MOCKINGBIRD, Kathryn Erskine
This came out in 2010 and was a National Book Award winner, Young People’s Literature. The back flap about the author begins: ‘As a resident of Virginia, Kathryn Erskine was devastated by the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Kathryn was driven to understand how community and family—particularly families with special-needs children—dealt with this violent event, and how our lives might be different if we understood each other better.’ . . . Um. So, this is to tell any of you who either have or would have instantly put the book back on the shelf before you caught a fatal dose of worthiness, that it’s a good read and a good story—that the moral rises gracefully and organically from the story. And furthermore, it’s funny, although most of the laughing hurts. Caitlin, the ten-year-old narrator, has Asperger’s. Her mother died when she was three years old, but her older brother, Devon, has always explained the world to her—but now her brother is dead too, as the result of a horrifying event like the Virginia Tech shootings, and her father (and small blame to him) has gone to pieces. It’s Caitlin who has to figure stuff out, and help both herself and her dad figure out how to go on without Devon.
“ . . . The librarian won’t let you take the Physicians’ Desk Reference home even if you hide it in the middle of thirty-two books. She says you have to leave it in the reference section so others might enjoy it. I don’t think I should have to leave it in the reference section just so others might enjoy. I know I will enjoy it. But she says that’s not the point. She never does tell me what the point is but Devon says sometimes you just have to do what a teacher or librarian says even if you think it’s stupid. Also he says you shouldn’t tell them out loud that you think it’s stupid. That’s a secret that stays in your head only.”
IN THE SEA THERE ARE CROCODILES, the true story of Enaiatollah Akbari, (by) Fabio Geda (translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis †)
This came out last year. All three of these books nail you with voice right off: ”The thing is, I really wasn’t expecting her to go. Because when you’re ten years old and getting ready for bed, on a night that’s just like any other night . . . with the familiar sound of the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer from the tops of the minarets, just like anywhere else . . . I say ten, although I’m not entirely sure when I was born, because there’s no registry office or anything like that in Ghazni province—like I said, when you’re ten years old, and your mother, before putting you to bed . . . says, There are three things you must never do in life, Enaiat jan, for any reason. The first is use drugs. . . . Promise me you won’t do it.
“The second is use weapons . . . never pick up a gun, or a knife, or a stone, or even the wooden ladle we use for making qhorma palaw, if that ladle can be used to hurt someone. Promise.
”The third is cheat or steal. . . . You must be hospitable and tolerant to everyone. Promise me you’ll do that.
“Anyway, even when your mother says things like that . . . and starts talking about dreams . . . if you hold a wish up high, any wish, just in front of your forehead, then life will always be worth living . . . says all these things in a strange low voice . . . it doesn’t occur to you that what she’s really saying is, Khoda negahdar, goodbye.”
Enaiatollah is an Afghan boy, from a tiny village. His mother has brought him to Quetta, a town on the Pakistani border . . . and left him there. Alone.
You get that far, and you have to read the rest, don’t you? You have to find out why, and what happens.
People are different. No they aren’t, they’re the same. And Enaiat’s mum has the right idea.
* * *
* Who are, fortunately, willing to trade an abbreviated hurtle for more sofa time.
** Yes I have been applying myself to SHADOWS. At one-quarter speed. Siiiiiigh. At least when you’re watching someone else coil up 1,000,000,000,000,000 feet of wiring no one is measuring the speed of your watching.
*** I’ve found that knitting over hellhounds is not really very satisfactory. Well, you can knit squares. But very long leg-warmers trail over said hellhounds and cause restiveness.^ Or possibly this is merely an indication of my lack of experience. Or my lack of spinal flexibility. Although speaking of squares . . . I’m going to have to start carrying around two knitting projects in my knapsack. I’m getting tired of fixing the mistakes in my leg-warmers that I made while knitting at stoplights. I still have to look at what I’m doing for ribbing.
^ And yes, I am severely tempted to design my own hellhound coat with attached leggings. But that will have to wait till I know enough what I’m doing to do . . . something that no one who knew what she was doing would do.
† Because translators don’t get enough credit. Says the woman working on (maybe) her second hundred words of Japanese.
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