Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy has been hailed as one accomplished writers of our era. The Road certainly is testimony to that statement. It is haunting, lyrical, depressing and full of love. It is an apocalyptic time in the future after an "event" has left the United States covered in gray ash. A man and his son with only a few blankets, a lighter, and a shopping cart are trying to get to what seems like the sea and the southern U.S. The narrative is without chapters and has only minimal punctuation as the two journey. It becomes cyclical as over and over again they find a dilapidated shelter, a bit food, some other lost people. But through it all Papa and the boy continue on because that is what they should do. They are the ones that carry the fire, the fire that gives them the impetus to live and to journey on.

The father is the protector and he will do what is necessary to keep his son alive. He carries a gun with two bullets in case it might be necessary to end the suffering. The son is incredibly morally grounded. He can't comprehend the idea that the when the pair meet a young boy on the road they don't stop to help the child. And so it goes as they travel on. With every step the father becomes sicker and sicker, coughing up blood, but so determined to live for his son. The ending is inevitable and we feel saddened for the boy who must go on.

This book could be used in so many instances on the Advanced Placement Exam. The language and style are the epitome of modern prose. I am anxious to see the film adaptation
starring Viggo Mortensen that will open this November. From the credits it seems that the mother may have more of a role than the brief glimpses that we get in the book of her shortened life.

Definitely another book that will stay with the reader as we ponder our place in this world and its future.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

We are magically transported back to the 1960s in Gary Schmidt's Newbery Honor book, The Wednesday Wars. It is September of 1967 and Holling Hoodhood is starting the 7th grade. He is the only Presbyterian in a class of Catholic and Jewish students and consequently has no place to go when the rest of his class leaves on Wednesdays to go to religious education classes. It is then that he decides that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him. She first has him doing very meaningless chores like cleaning blackboards and erasers. (How many remember cleaning erasers against a brick wall?) But when that doesn't work out as she plans, she decides that he will begin reading Shakespeare. Total proof that she hates him.

Schmidt craftily weaves the Shakespearean plays into Holling's life both in and out of school. He becomes totally involved in the plays and realizes that the Bard speaks to junior high boys as well as English teachers. Holling even joins a community group and plays Ariel in the local theatre production. Needless to say he suffers some repercussions from this decision. 1967-1968 were tumultuous years with the Viet Nam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, atomic bomb drills, and the peace movements. They were also the years of Ralph Houck's Yankees and we meet so many of the memorable players of those years like Mel Stottlemyre, Mickey Mantle and Joe Pepitone. There are numerous other subplots involving Holling's father's architectural firm, his sister's running away from home, classmates, and Mrs. Baker's husband who is a soldier in Viet Nam. We get much of the news from the venerable Walter Cronkite.

This book is a gem and well deserving of the Newbery Honor. It is funny, no actually hilarious, and thought-provoking. It is a shame that the cover does not do the inside of the book justice. It is not enticing and that is a definite shame. Read this book and have a thoroughly enjoying experience. For classroom teachers, it begs to be read aloud. Have fun on a trip back in time!