July 26, 2011

On the Road

Today's posting features three different stories with similar themes. Abilene's father, in Moon Over Manifest, hops trains to travel between different cities, but one day, he decides to leave Abilene behind. The family in The Circuit chases the American Dream by following the harvest from farm to farm. And the Williams family in The Velvet Room just want a home they can call their own.

They are all searching for something and all, with one exception, find it.

by Clare Vanderpool

It is 1936, and twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker has been sent to live with her father's friend in Manifest, Kansas. A drifter, Abilene's father is no longer able to care for her.

Having heard stories of Manifest all her life, Abilene strives to find out more about her father's background. What she finds instead is a box of mementos hidden beneath the floorboards of her room. The box also contains letters that hint at the existence of a spy living in Manifest in 1918.

With her friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, she decides to find out if the Rattler (the name of the spy) is still around. She also starts helping the town diviner, Miss Sadie, with her gardening. It is Miss Sadie who tells her the story of two boys, Jinx and Ned, who used to live in Manifest. As she listens, Abilene realizes that the box's mementos represent key moments in the boys' lives. As she pieces the story together, she makes a discovery about her father that helps explain who he is now, and why he keeps travelling.

by Francisco Jiménez

In this short story collection, Jiménez describes the life of migrant farm workers from Mexico, who illegally enter the United States for what they believe is a better life. What they find instead is back-breaking work picking cotton or strawberries and crude shelters like tents, shacks, or windowless garages. Sometimes the workers were treated with kindness, but most were not. Depressingly, the book ends with the family's deportation. An epilogue, available in the audio version (The Circuit),would have been nice, since Jiménez did eventually succeed in improving his fortunes.

The Velvet Room

by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Twelve-year-old Robin tends to "wander off" to get away from the confusion she feels inside her. It was not until Robin's father found a permanent job at the McCurdy ranch, after three years as a migrant worker, that Robin actually found a place to wander to. The Velvet Room is  a wonderful library in an old boarded-up house that Robin enters through a secret passage. It becomes a haven for her--a place to read and dream, a place to bury one's fears and doubts, a place to count on. But, as Robin soon learns, you can't stop counting on people.

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