Pat Schmatz (Young Adult Fiction)
“One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” Might as well be, “One fish, two fish, Travis is a stupid fish.” At least that’s what they all say…well, what one person says, but he is a VERY influential person. Travis Roberts is the new kid in the eighth grade. The only thing keeping him in school was his dog, Rosco, and now that he’s gone, what’s the point? He’ll always be stupid. He’ll always be a bluefish. But then Travis meets Vida (her public calls her “Velveeta”) and Bradley Whistler (who is THE smartest kid EVER) and Mr. McQueen, his reading teacher. Up until this point, everything that Travis cared about was gone. Maybe now he has a reason to begin caring again…even if he is just a bluefish.
Pat Schmatz serves up an awkwardly accurate and often humorous portrayal of adolescence through three flawed and endearing misfits—all longing to fit in and wanting to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Our three protagonists are no longer a child and not quite an adult, and Bluefish shows us the mask each wears to cover up their insecurities and shortcomings. From the brainiac to the class clown to the strong, silent type, Schmatz successfully encapsulates the complicated world of teenagers and the tangled and convoluted roadmap that directs their everyday lives and dictates their emotions.
Bluefish is more than a story of friendship and middle school survival, it’s a story of how one person has the power to change the very course of our life: a kid who finds and hands back your stolen shoe; a girl who invites you to sit with her at lunch; or a teacher who volunteers his or her time to tutor you before school. Thank you, Ms. Schmatz, for reminding us of the importance of not giving up on our friends, and—more importantly—not giving up on ourselves. You have shown us that being a bluefish really isn’t so bad and can actually be a rather remarkable thing after all.
*Book cover image attributed to www.barnesandnoble.com
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The Giant’s House
“Peggy Cort is crazy, anyone will tell you so. The only person who ever thought I wasn’t is dead; he is the subject of this memoir.”
Peggy Cort is a librarian in Brewsterville, an unremarkable little town in Cape Cod that has a few guest houses and a small stretch of beach. But at one time, Brewsterville had James Carlson Sweatt. Everyone knew him as “The Giant”. It was the fall of 1950 when Peggy first met James. He walked into her library looking for a book on magic. At that time, he was 11-years old to her 25 and had already reached a height of six foot two. Little did Peggy realize then how much that one ordinary moment would change her life forever. How, as James Carlson Sweatt grew, so would her feelings for this humble, kind, and gentle giant.
The Giant’s House is Elizabeth McCracken’s first novel and it’s easy to see why it became a National Book Award finalist. McCracken gives us an exceptionally well-written and heartbreakingly beautiful story of two souls who share a quiet and understated love. James and Peggy form a mutually beneficial yet emotionally satisfying relationship based on their circumstances: he—by genetics—requires daily support and assistance while she—through vocation—is more than able to adequately provide both. On the cover, The Giant’s House is rightly billed as a “romance” rather than a love story since the author mainly focuses on the growing relationship between James and Peggy. It truly is an immersive story filled with compassion and tenderness. I withheld a rating only because the ending didn’t seem to fully hit the mark. McCracken’s story seemed to veer a bit off-course near the end and this shift was just enough to leave me a bit unsettled and unsatisfied.
When Peggy once used the word desiderata, James asked her its meaning to which she replied, “That word, it’s the best thing I learned in library school. It means—well, it’s sort of like, what’s desired and required.” “Desired and required? Which?” James asked. “Both. Some things are both,” she said. Dictionary.com gives an example of this word by providing “happily-ever-after”. While The Giant’s House may have fallen short in providing readers with a traditional happily ever after, it does give us two characters who succeed in making each other happy until their own ever after arrives. And that is enough to satisfy my own desideratum.
*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com