Friday, December 5, 2008

Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, 2008)

Lynn: "Henry Smith's father told him that if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you." Trouble does come of course, even to Henry’s privileged New England family, when a truck driven by a young Cambodian immigrant critically injures Henry’s older brother. Schmidt’s signature fluid prose beautifully captures two distinctly different communities, exploring issues of racial prejudice, class, perception and family loyalty. Henry’s friend Sanborn and Black Dog (a terrific addition to literature dogs!) add humor to a leisurely-paced thoughtful coming of age story. There are some problems here including a few exceptionally convenient plot devices and some one-dimensional secondary characters but I didn’t care. Those concerns were swept away for me by the strength of the portrayal of Henry’s journey from childhood to adolescence, the vividly evoked sense of place and the masterfully crafted language. We recently heard Gary Schmidt speak at a conference about his fascination with what event or experience initiates the change from childhood to adolescence. That theme stands out so much for me in this book. Henry’s awakening is written with such subtlety and grace that I am willing to forgive any quibbles I might have.
Cindy: There's no question that Schmidt is a master wordsmith. I've admired his writing since first reading The Sin Eater and I've read everything of his except Anson's Way. I agree with most of Lynn's praise for this book. The setting is fabulous, his descriptions are lush and the physical and psychological journeys mesh well. That said, I felt like I was being beaten over the head with the Trouble metaphor, especially the refrain about building your house far from trouble. I listened to this on audio, so perhaps that repetition annoyed me more than it would have if I'd read it in print like Lynn. I don't know, I like this book a lot and will booktalk it with teens but I'd have liked a little more subtlety. Listening to Gary tell stories at our conference was wonderful. He is a storyteller in every sense of the word. You just want to spend an evening by a fire and listen to him spin tales. Black dog is a keeper for sure. I'd like a whole book about his escapades. His effect on the house mimics that of my teenage daughters who leave a similar trail of destruction behind.