Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review of True (...Sort Of) by Katherine Hannigan

Hannigan, Katherine.  True (...Sort Of). HarperCollins, 2011.

Delaware (Delly) Pattison is trouble.  Not because she's bad, mind you, but because her idea of fun (spitting contests; teaching all the kids made-up cuss words that sound worse than the real thing; and on and on) drives adults nuts.  And she gets called "bad" so many times that she starts to believe it, until she has gotten downright defiant by middle school and is close to getting kicked out and sent to a school for problem kids.

But then Ferris Boyd comes to town.  Ferris is a girl who looks like boy, and she doesn't talk or allow herself to be touched.  But Delly befriends her, VERY slowly but surely, as does a basketball-mad boy named Brud (Ferris is an amazing basketball player, though no one knows it) and Delly's little brother.  In the process, they all learn more patience, understanding, and kindness - and Delly gets her fun-loving groove back.

There is a folksiness to this tale that reminds me of Savvy and other recent tall tale-esque novels that take place in a mythical American heartland.  Delly's 6 brothers and sisters have names like Dallas, Tallahassee, Montana, and so on.  She says things like "Happy Hallelujah" and an entire glossary (literally - it's at the back) of other inventive words and phrases - "idierk" and "jiminy fipes."  Characters, whether appealing or exasperating, don't seem quite real.

And yet the issue at the heart of this tale - why Ferris won't talk or let anyone touch her - is very serious indeed.  It's never absolutely spelled out, but readers do realize from the beginning that Ferris' situation is bad.  Delly realizes it as well, but isn't sure what to do.  Ferris is so darn private, and Delly isn't sure what's going on anyway or what her own responsibility is or what might be considered meddling. 

How Delly deals with the mysterious Ferris and her delicate, awful situation is gripping, and it gives gravitas to what might otherwise have been simply another eccentric, folksy tale.  It doesn't completely gel - wouldn't adults have questioned Ferris' strange symptoms and home life, even a little?  But maybe not, as adults don't always want to leap to the worst conclusion. 

This is a charming tale with grit to it, rather like cute little Delly Pattison, whose "voice was raspy, as if a load of gravel lined her throat."  It'll take readers by surprise, and that's all to the good.  Recommended for grades 4 to 6.

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