The Plot In Five Sentences or Less: Hobie Hanson is a 5th grader in Seattle, Washington during World War II. His father is away fighting the Germans, so Hobie spends most of his time with his friends and his German Shepherd Duke. Life is not easy without his dad around, and only becomes harder when Mitch Mitchell, the school bully, sets his eyes on him and challenges him to give up Duke for the Dogs for Defense Program. Much to Mitch’s surprise, Hobie rises to the challenge and soon Duke is part of the war effort and on his way to the Pacific. Hobbie finds that he now must adjust to life both without his dad and his dog.
My Take: I found this to be a very straight forward book about a boy’s experience and sacrifice on the home front during World War II. My one criticism would be that Larson could have risked introducing more strangeness into the story. There was a lot of baseball and paper routes, what one might consider stock 1950’s Americana. Still, for those looking for a good read about the connection between and boy and his dog, this is a good pick.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to her website, Kirby was born at Fort Lawton Army Hospital in Seattle, Washington. She cost $5.
The Plot in 5 Sentences or Less: Red O’Sullivan is a senior at Hatley High School in a mining town in Arizona in the fall of 1950. He is also the quarterback for the Hatley Muckers, who haven’t made a push for the title since 1941, when Red’s brother Bobby was QB. Bobby’s death in World War II exacerbated his father’s drinking and his mother’s loss of sanity. Red hopes to redeem his school and his family by leading his team to the championship cup. But larger forces at work; the Korean War is raging, the mine is closing, and the school is shutting down.
My Take: The Korean War. The mine closing. The school shutting down. The alcoholic father. The insane mother. The dead brother. The corrupt priest. Wallace piles on a mountain (no pun intended) of trouble onto the protagonist. By the middle of the book, I began feeling like perhaps this was all too much, as if the book were a parody of some blue collar nightmare set in the southwest. Or perhaps this was Friday Night Lights in Arizona. I believe that a tighter focus on fewer problems may have yielded a more powerful read. However, I commend Wallace for offering the reader an unfamiliar time and place in history. Sports fans and history buffs may enjoy this book. Ages 12+
One Interesting Note About the Author: Sandra Neil Wallace was for many years an ESPN sports announcer. According to her website, her favorite ice cream is Tiger Tiger (a mix of licorice and orange sherbert!). It is a flavor easily found in Canada but not the United States.
The Plot (in 5 sentences or less): Set in 1959 Memphis, Tennessee, an 11 year old takes over a friend’s paper route for a few weeks during the summer. The young man suffers from stuttering and it colors his entire life. As he slowly makes his rounds, he becomes involved in the lives of his customers which opens up greater questions. What should he do, for example, about the possible domestic abuse suffered by one lady or the riddles scribbled on a dollar bill given to him by one erudite man? Events come to a violent head when his housekeeper confronts the local homeless man about some items stolen from the household.
My Take: Credit should be given to Mr. Vawter for using a protagonist with a speech impediment. Any teen with a stuttering challenge should absolutely read this book. The author does an excellent job of showing the reader what it is like to live daily with this problem.
Vawter has a restrained writing style that allows him to slowly construct the characters and the plot. Because of this, Paperboy may be too slowly plotted for some young readers. Much of the book is committed to the narrator’s cautious approach to building relationships with adults in his life. Still, towards the end of the book, I did get some goosebumps, that visceral test of any work of art.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Vince Vawter’s first memory of his stutter is just before the age of 5. Despite his stutter, he has had a rewarding career in newspapers. As he tell it in the author’s note, “have I been cured of my stutter? No. Have I overcome it? Yes.”
This is a verse novel narrated by a young girl set in the 1950’s and 60’s in Hong Kong. Written almost as a verse diary over several years, the reader gains a glimpse into the girl’s life. Her family subsists mainly from her father’s tailoring business, but work ebbs and flows. When the father is not working, he makes patchwork blankets that the girl calls ‘tofu quilts.’ Despite money being tight, her mother manages to send the girl to private school where she develops a love of books. Her dream is to grow up someday to become a writer.
Family tensions are explored as the girl describes her father’s family becoming upset with the mother for sacrificing so much on the narrator’s education. Gender is also touched on as relatives counsel the girl to respect her elders and to one day obey her husband.
Readers will appreciate the unique verse form of this novel. I did not find this book to be particularly interesting, but I did appreciate the clean, elegant writing style. For ages 8+