Saturday, March 7, 2009

Walk Two Moons

It seems like most readers love Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. My 12 year old works in his school library (which serves 400+ 5th and 6th graders), and reports that it is checked out often and that both adults and kids say it's great, though he hasn't read it and doesn't really want to do so - I suspect because he thinks it's a girl book. I'm hoping he gets past this phase soon.

Anyway, I was a bit surprised when I didn't start out liking Walk Two Moons very much at all.

I felt like Creech did a good job of capturing how some different kids think (and Phoebe and Sal were both wonderful, complicated characters), and there were some great portrayals of stiff-necked parents and grandparents and loud (vs. mildly neurotic) kids:

"I don't how you can stand it," Phoebe said to Mary Lou.

"Stand what?"

Phoebe pointed to Tommy and Dougie, who were running around like wound-up toys, making airplane noises and train noises and zooming in between us and then running up ahead and falling over each other and crying and then leaping back up again and socking each other and chasing after bumblebees.

"I'm used to it," Mary Lou said. "My brothers are always doing beef-brained things." (p. 62)

But I was increasingly annoyed by the tone of the story - in an early draft of this review, I even wrote a snide sentence about how there were enough chickabiddies, gooseberries, whang-doodles and the like to last me 'til the next blue moon. And as someone who has regularly driven from Indiana to Illinois near the spot where both states touch Lake Michigan, the part where Gram and Gramps and Salamanca see Lake Michigan after a big curve in the road just bothered me. We've tried all of the different routes into the Chicago area, and there is just nowhere where you can see "a huge jing-bang mass of water....as blue as the bluebells that grow behind the barn....like a huge blue pasture of water" (p. 36-37) from any highway or road into the Windy City. It's all abandoned steel mills and grain elevators and huge industrial complexes around there. You can't see the lake until you're way past the state border, and there is just no way you can swerve across two lanes of traffic and be standing barefoot in Lake Michigan "faster than you can milk a cow".

I know, you may think it's a petty complaint, but it's always jarring when your reality is so very different from an author's.

Similarly, some American Indians aren't particularly thrilled by Creech's use of rather generic nature-loving Indian stereotypes in Walk Two Moons (or the fortune-cookie title). And I thought the whole Native heritage part of the book actually detracted from the story - it didn't really serve any purpose that I could see except making Sal and her mother slightly exotic, with their unusual names, and giving them an excuse to feel closer to nature. Can't a sixth-grader with African or German great-great-grandparents feel just as much connection to their environment as Salamanca Tree Hiddle does?

Around the middle of the book, though, I was so drawn into Phoebe and Sal's intertwined stories, that most of my earlier criticisms faded. I thought I had figured out the mystery of Sal's mother, Chanhassen, early on in the story, but it turned out to be much more complicated than I had anticipated. And I really appreciated the way that Creech examined women's roles as mothers and wives in this part of the book, and Salamanca's increasing understanding of her mother, and her understanding of how other people (like Phoebe) see their own mothers.

Phoebe's obsession with cholesterol is one of the funnier parts of the book, and pretty prescient when it comes to orthorexia (an overriding focus on eating the right kinds of foods), recently popularized by Michael Pollan in his latest book - In Defense of Food.

I was surprised and moved by the plot twists in the second half of the book - it was undeniably powerful and cleverly mapped out, the way more and more of the story was revealed. I think I'd like to read something else by Sharon Creech, and if I don't endorse Walk Two Moons as whole-heartedly as some of its other readers, I do have to say that I am very glad to have read it.

2 comments:

Amanda (the librarian) said...

Thank you for the great link to the American Indians in Children's Literature blog!

Debbie Reese said...

There is a second essay about WALK TWO MOONS on my site (American Indians in Children's Literature). The first was by Beverly Slapin at Oyate; the second one is by me (Debbie Reese). Sharon Creech replied to my critique.

http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2010/02/thoughts-on-sharon-creechs-walk-two.html