Thursday, September 26, 2019

Huck Finn Updated

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, four orphans, ages 16 downwards, create their own family and escape the abusive Lincoln School for Indians in Minnesota, heading to St.Louis in a canoe. Murder, mayhem, and magic ensue. Nurturing hope, pursued by evil throughout their entire journey, they are helped and harmed in turn by the other people they encounter. On the rivers and in the towns they meet gamblers and thieves, whores and liars, faith healers and phantoms—both good and bad among them, the flotsam and jetsam of humans caught up in a time of huge upheaval.

This novel is a fantastic story of the real America, still on hand, with its hustlers and innocents trampled. Krueger also highlights the spiritual life of youth in this coming of age story: their sense of justice and mercy, their judgements of self and others, their seemingly clear vision of the hypocrisy of adults, their sense of wonder and gratitude.

This Tender Land is an adventurous and tender book. Though his villains have progressed to a place beyond redemption in this life, hurting children for their own ends, Krueger still leaves us with compassion for those who make bad choices in life and hope for those in horrific circumstances.

As I read, the adventures of Huckleberry Finn immediately came to mind, and indeed in the afterward the author pays homage to Twain. The rascal Huck was always more adult than Tom Sawyer—he had to be—and the technique of telling the story from the perspective of a main character recalling (and probably embellishing) the past works really well here. William Kent Krueger is a great writer, but like his narrator, he’s a wonderful storyteller, moving things along while making us care—and that’s harder.

There’s something for everyone in this book: drama, humor, and heart—with a touch of magic and mystery as well. It would make a fantastic read-aloud to share, an engaging book club book. It really is one for the ages, I hope to become a classic—one of the best books of the year. (Thanks to Atria and Netgalley for the digital review copy.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Things You Save in a FireThings You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cassie isn't quite sure how she ended up trading her job as a firefighter in her Austin hometown to move to Massachusetts for a year to help out her mom—the woman who abandoned her husband and Cassie on the disastrous night of Cassie's sixteenth birthday a decade ago. But her dad thinks she should, so she says goodbye to everyone who cares about her to move clear across the country. She knows it won't be easy: Austin's firefighters are integrated and funded, with respect for women coworkers and budgets that supply the latest technologies. Small town Massachusetts is sexist and underfunded. Actually, Cassie kind of needed to get out of town: she was getting a plaque for bravery as a firefighter, but the substitute bigwig presenter was a big shock: the boy who ruined her birthday and solidified her distrust of romance. He patted her butt. On stage. Firefighter reflex, she punched him on contact. On stage. That's enough reason to get out of town while the smoke blows over, even if it does mean dealing with her mom, who she hasn't seen since the morning of that fateful sixteenth birthday. Cassie has done a good job of protecting her heart up until now, but the stress of proving herself on the new job and dealing with her mom just might crack it, especially dealing with the fire department's other new hire: handsome, caring Rookie. She can't even use his name, she's so attracted to him. Way to lose the job you really need, way to lose the distance you really need, way to get into trouble. Cassie is doing her best to live as an adult, but she has some growing up to do (don't we all, even as we age). Firefighters deal with life and death all the time, but Cassie gets new insights into what can really ruin your life and what can save it. Heart and humor override the drama in this story, making it a fun read. With issues of life and death, fate and forgiveness, that's hard to pull off. Recommended! (I received an Advance Readers copy from St. Martin's for review.)

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