Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Another spate of school stories ...

... and these students are thinking about something more than getting laid and getting high. Shug segued into Francine Green, who has segued into Holling Hoodhood of The Wednesday Wars. I finished up The Loud Silence of Francine Green where the plot finally kicked in out there in sunny Los Angeles, circa 1950, and Francine learned to speak out. But she lost her only friend along the way, and she's still stuck in that awful Catholic girls school. On the whole, not a very satisfactory listen -- either story-wise or listening-wise. Anaka Shockley -- the narrator -- needs a little more practice creating characters, but we'll hear more of her in teen books I'm pretty sure. She does them well.

On to Holling Hoodhood, a 7th grader in 1968 on Long Island. He's the only non-Jew, non-Catholic in his homeroom and so he spends Wednesday afternoons (while his friends are at Hebrew school or catechism) with Mrs. Baker, his homeroom teacher, whose husband has shipped out to Vietnam. At first Holling and Mrs. Baker shift along together uneasily (he ends up cleaning the erasers for the whole school -- my, that brought back memories), but eventually the two of them bond over William Shakespeare. Over the course of the school year, the story meanders from one event to another in an engaging and slightly hilarious (perhaps to some teenaged boys) way. Holling shares the same sweetness, sincerity and intelligence of author Gary Schmidt's earlier creation Turner Buckminster from Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Holling's father seems to share the Reverend Buckminster's cruel cluelessness as well.

The reader, Joel Johnstone, is very good. He brings the right amount of innocent enthusiasm to Holling, who truly gets a kick out of the people and world around him. He gives a certain gravitas to the adults in the story -- without sounding faky and "adult" -- and has created delightful, immediately identifiable character studies for the story's other teenagers. I'm particularly enjoying the breaking voice of Holling's best friend, Danny, who is currently preparing for his bar mitzvah.

I'll have to wait until the book comes out (any day now, but it always seems to take awhile for it to arrive at my library) to check on his pronunciation of Leonid Brezhnev's last name (Brez-ni-ev is what I'm hearing).

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