There are some writers who just knock me right over with their writing talent. They know how to hone their words down to the most essential bones, so that the language is deceptively simple but contains maximum beauty and meaning. Patricia MacLachlan is one, Susan Patron is another. Simplicity, pithiness, grace, and humor – they make it look so easy.
That Jacqueline Woodson belongs on that list was made crystal clear yet again by Peace, Locomotion. This book is told mostly through Lonnie’s letters to his sister Lili, who as we know from Locomotion is living in a different foster family, as well as a few of Lonnie’s poems. This is tough stuff. Lonnie is doing really well, considering that he’s in a foster family, is separated from his sister, and is still getting over the death of his parents. After all, he has gotten close to his foster mother Miss Edna and his foster brother Rodney, he’s got a nifty new teacher who appreciates his poetry, and his friend Clyde is a great guy to have in your corner. But Miss Edna’s older son Jenkins is in Iraq, where he is wounded in body and spirit – and Lonnie can’t help but miss his sister and his parents every day.
That the good and the bad parts of life are inextricably meshed in anyone’s life comes through clearly as Lonnie writes to Lili in his clear, honest, unsentimental voice. He’s a real poet – he always tries to get to the truth and heart of the matter. There’s never any soppiness – just straightforward words like these, which made me cry after all the stuff these three guys and Miss Edna have been through:
A few days ago, Miss Edna took some pictures of me, Rodney and Jenkins. Me and Rodney were sitting on the couch and Jenkins was in his wheelchair. Miss Edna said, I can’t believe I’m going to finally have some pictures of my three favorite men.
And guess what? Today we got the pictures back. Miss Edna waited until we was all sitting down for dinner before she pulled them out. She said, I got something I think is going to crack a smile out of the hardest nut. Then she showed us the pictures and there was Jenkins, not even smiling one bit but giving me rabbit ears!
We laughed for a long, long time.
Love and Peace and Rabbit Ears,
Thanks to Woodson's skill, Lonnie comes alive for the reader - he's as vivid to me as many a real person, and more so than some I know! I'd recognize him if I saw him walking toward me on the street.