Thursday, July 31, 2008

Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt

Well, I’m torn. I thought I’d never love a literary dog more than the clever and stalwart Cracker in Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum 2007), but now there is Black Dog. Her head-cocking, belly-exposing, tail-wagging, grinning presence makes her one of the main characters in Trouble, and one of the best reasons to read the book.

Oh yeah, and there’s Henry, a 14-year-old from an old-money Massachusetts family, whose older brother Franklin (a sports hero but otherwise not a stellar individual) is hit while jogging by a pick-up truck. Inside the truck is Chay Chuan, a teen from Cambodia. Although the accident was clearly just that, the rift between the whites (both rich/entitled and blue-collar/blame-their-woes-on-immigrants) and the recent Cambodian immigrants widens precipitously. Franklin loses his arm and then much more, sister Louisa and both parents are almost house-bound with shock and sorrow, and Henry – he decides to hike up Mt. Katahdin in Maine, as he had always wanted to do with Franklin.

While the first half of the book deals with the family’s and community’s various reactions (mostly negative) to the situation, and does so in a measured and masterful way, the second half gets a little out of control. Henry and his buddy Sanborn (a laconic guy with a dry sense of humor whose dorky exchanges and tussles with Henry keep things real throughout the book) find themselves headed north in Chay’s pick-up (he’s running away) and suddenly there are encounters with evil, prejudiced fishermen, escapes down one-way streets, accidental participation in a classic car parade, Black Dog running happily amok after a balloon and tossing members of a marching band like bowling pins, a rather symbolic shipwreck, and even a shooting. Like that sentence, the second half goes on too long and is too filled with unlikely events.

Schmidt ties things up satisfactorily at the end, and Henry comes to terms with his intense and contradictory feelings about Franklin, Chay, his family, and his life in a way that is believable and moving.

For teens ages 12 and up.

The audiobook version is narrated by Jason Culp. His Massachusetts and Maine accents may or may not be authentic but they sure added to my enjoyment of this New England tale.

1 comment:

  1. Did you find that the plot relied too much on some pretty unbelievable coincidences? Loved the voice though -- and Black Dog.