Archive for April 12th, 2011

April 12, 2011

if you chase it, it might chase you back

This book is a portal.  I opened its page and was instantly transformed.  So transformed, I was confused.  Was I the reader or the main character?  Was I on my couch, breast-feeding one son and patting the other, Sesame Street blaring in the background and the book balanced on my lap?  Or was I walking an ancient trail, uncovering its stones and its secrets one by one, finding a path as I found myself and my family along the way?  Or maybe I was the writer?  Did I write this book?  Conceive of its characters?  I feel I know them so well that I might have.  I can’t really say.  I loved this book!

All I know is that this book drew me in so deeply I can’t decide if I should ride this wave of bibliophilism (wow! that is totally a word!) and pick up another book immediately (preferably one by Sharon Creech) or just call it quits when I’m ahead and never read another book again.  Not sure yet, but in the meantime, I’ll write one (last?) blog entry.

Title: Chasing Redbird
Author: Sharon Creech
Genre: Fiction
Age: Middle School

Summary and Review:

Zinny is the quiet daughter in a large family, the one who listens to her sisters’ gossip at night in their too-crowded, shared bedroom, the one who collects bottlecaps and rocks, who spends more time with her aunt and uncle next door than her mom and dad in her own busy house.  She is an honest character, so true to her age and the human race that it seems Sharon Creech must have studied the very souls of her readers before she typed these words.

There are so many things about Zinny that I love, but mostly it is her honest confusion about life that gets at my heart.  Some of us (a rare few of us) will admit to being confused about the meaning of life.  But I’ve never heard anyone express out loud the ways that confusion can take hold on a daily level.  I love that Zinny admits to being afraid at times that she isn’t who she thinks she is.  That she is actually someone else, and that the real Zinny is dead, or the real Zinny is off somewhere and she is merely watching her.  I love that Zinny admits to being afraid of the “hand of God” and thinks that God has challenged her personally in peculiar, creative ways.  I love that Zinny admits to searching for a relative she knows has passed away, and I love that she finds her.  I love that Zinny is scared of the attention from a boy and of her own feelings.  I love the way Zinny learns about herself and her family, as if piecing together a mysterious puzzle, something that allows her to really understand some of the important things about being a daughter, a niece, a sister, and a girlfriend–none of which she truly attains until she first understands some things about being herself.  And I love, very much, the dichotomy in Zinny–how she feels so powerful that she believes she might have singlehandedly caused more than one death, but at the same time so useless that no boy could possibly ever like her.  If that isn’t growing up, then what is?

When Zinny starts to unravel the mysteries and dig up the stones of an old, historic trail near her farm in Kentucky, she takes her first step from being “one of those Taylor kids” to being “the one who’s digging up the trail.”  That transformation, from an overgrown past to a well-used walkway, from an unknown girl to a girl who knows herself well enough to like herself, is the story in this remarkable book.

Follow-up with the kids:

Zinny’s thoughts and feelings will resonate with a lot of kids in the midst of the turmoil of growing up and trying on a new identity.  Of course, if you are their parent, they probably won’t talk with you about it.  But that’s the brilliant thing about reading with your kids.  Just ask them about Zinny.  Why do you think Zinny felt that way?  Why did she do this?  That dichotomy of hopelessness and adolescence that I talked about above?  What does your daughter think about that?  You’ll hear some of her own feelings in her responses, and maybe you’ll learn what powers her own, personal dichotomy.

Now, you can start this conversation with the Jake/May issue because that might get them talking, but press further–what about Rose and Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate?  Zinny’s precious relationship with each of these people tells us so much about what it means to be a live “human bean” that you could talk about this through the night.  And maybe you should.  Get a tarp and two sleeping bags and head to the backyard…that would be the best place to do it.  Under the stars.  Near the birds.

Oh, and one more thing: Zinny had a trail.  What do you or your child have?  Is it a place to explore?  100 books to read?  a new cuisine to learn how to cook?  a new exercise regime to learn and stick to?  What can you uncover that might help you uncover you?