Friday, December 15, 2006

From the Stacks #4

I still haven't tackled Allende or made it beyond the first chapter of Possession, but did manage two children's books that have been sitting on the shelves for more than a year...

Up from Jericho Tel

This must be one of E. L. Konigsburg's most unusual works, beginning with the premise: the ghost of Tallulah Bankhead recruits two children to discover what became of her favorite diamond necklace, stolen from her body the night she died. The children, loners united partly by their common residence in a trailer park, meet with Bankhead after being pulled below ground in a clearing they've christened Jericho Tel and which they've been using as a burial ground for dead wildlife. They are then sent forth -- invisible, but corporeal -- to various locales to investigate the friends who were with Tallulah the night of the theft.

Published in 1986, Jericho Tel is in some ways a forerunner of works like The View From Saturday (1996), with its use of two very dissimilar -- and distinctly individual -- children uniting for a common cause; it's also reminiscent of A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (1973) with the spirit of a powerful female trying to resolve the loose ends of her life. And, like Konigsburg's first Newbery winner (and second novel), From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967), it pairs an overly practical, mathematically inclined boy with a bossy girl who longs for more attention; both grow closer while hiding from adults and uncovering a secret about an object associated with a famous person.

There are some wonderfully quirky elements in the book, such as the weathergrams ("a poem of ten words or less that a person writes on a plain brown paper bag and hangs on a tree . . . . [It] is rubbed by the wind, faded by the sun, washed by the rain and becomes part of the world"), which the children use in lieu of gravestones in their burial ground. (This site has more on weathergrams, including a few examples.)

Like Konigsburg's other books, Jericho Tel privileges intelligence, individuality, and achievement, and occasionally flaunts conventions. Although the introduction of the fantasy element is somewhat jarring (as several reviewers noted), the tone of the book and innovative approach made it a delightful, enriching read.

Necessary Roughness

Like her Finding My Voice, Marie G. Lee's Necessary Roughness is set in a town in Minnesota that has only one Asian-American family -- that of the teen-aged protagonist. Although Chan Kim is not pleased when his family moves from LA, he gradually makes friends and begins to adjust to small-town life, especially after being recruited for the football team. As does the protagonist in Voice, Chan struggles against his family's rigid rules and high academic expectations, which often clash with his own desires and interfere with his ability to fit in socially, a situation complicated by the racism of some of his peers. And, again like Voice, he has a talented sister who excels academically and is (for the most part) better able to comply with their parents' wishes.

In the use of sports as bonding and the problem of too much roughness on the playing field (from which comes the title), Lee imitates Chris Crutcher's model, though not as successfully. Like Crutcher, she incorporates a few shocking events into the plot, but doesn't seem able to resolve them for maximum effect. It's a fast read, and certainly not a bad book, but not an outstanding one.


Blogger Nisa said...

Your entry on Jericho Tel--it made me want to read the book, and I'm sure I'll like it almost as much as The View from Saturday, which I really did adore and still remains on my favorite books lists. I've read your other thoughts on books, and I'm actually looking forward to knowing them as well. I can never read enough, or have enough books. One of my dreams is to actually write a novel.

Happy New Year. =)

6:59 PM  

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