Monday, January 18, 2016

First Impressions

I just read the opening chapter of Far From the Madding Crowd, my book club's next selection. The one word judgment pronounced by the farmer glimpsing the girl in the story for the first time is "vanity." I'm sure the rest of this novel will bear out this truth, but Hardy is letting me know right away what to expect of that character.

The first pages of any book are like walking into a new place. Sometimes we sense the atmosphere instantly, sometimes we are like hesitant guests, looking for clues as to which way to turn and what to expect, sometimes there are bold signs for the newcomer not to miss.

One thing is sure, you can't judge a book by its cover, certainly not by its title. Last week, I read The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. I never know what to expect of young adult fiction. I had not read anything else by this author and knew nothing about him. The title wasn't promising. Neither was the first page or two.

But I'm glad I kept skepticism at bay and went on reading. It didn't take long to figure out the setting. I remember those days quite clearly, especially those middle school years of uncertainty, embarrassment, lack of confidence. As the story pulled me in, I felt quite at home, especially when I gradually realized that I was in seventh grade in this very year in American history. I had a cousin headed for Vietnam. I had teachers I thought disliked me that did more for me than I could appreciate at the time. I was often puzzled by my parents and baffled by my friends’ behavior.

Any book that holds appeal for its intended juvenile audience and engages adults is worth reading. There are admirable qualities in the characters here, but they are far from perfect. The predicaments in which its hero finds himself are hilarious, his true heartaches understandable, yet the overwhelming impression of this tumultuous stage of childhood and a nation is triumphant.

It's not often that an author has so much good to say in such a lighthearted and sympathetic manner as Schmidt puts into the pages of this book. It is certainly not the depressing, pointless teen-aged struggle that is drearily offered to young people to read, but holds valuable wisdom and insight into relationships and real-life situations. The main character's first impressions, like all of ours, are often dead on, and sometimes dead wrong.

If you wonder whether there are any good modern books for young adults today, I highly recommend Schmidt's poignant and amusing, true-to-life novels.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

9 comments:

  1. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on Far From the Maddening Crowd. I read it last year! And thanks on the heads up for the other author!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't often write about adult literature, So you may have to prompt me. I will have to be cruising as my book club meets in a week and I am the discussion leader. But, I love Thomas Hardy--novels and poetry.

      Liz

      Delete
  2. Have read both of the books and absolutely love The Wednesday Wars. The sequel is good too: Okay for Now. He has a new book out: Orbiting Jupiter: he two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Schmidt tells about the book here: http://www.hmhbooks.com/schmidt/
    He types his stories on a typewriter not a computer. He lives with his family on a 150-year-old farm in Alto, Michigan, ...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I read The Wednesday Wars years ago, pretty soon after its release, I think. Have you read Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (also by Schmidt)? It was a Newbery Honor Book, and it's very, very good, but so sad. Somehow, despite the incredible sadness, Schmidt manages to end it on a note of hope. He's a very good writer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have not read that one, but hope to read more of this author this year.

      Delete
  5. I'm in the middle of the Madding Crowd right now! I can't say I *love* it, but I don't dislike it either! The ending will have to be the deciding factor for me. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Catie,
      I don't think it will spoil it for you if I say you will not be disappointed. I wish I had time to go back through the book and write down all his comments on the nature of men, women, and love--that in itself would be a mini book worth reading, but the story tells it all. Now that I've finished it, it is on my top ten love story list.

      Liz

      Delete
    2. Ooh! Good to know! I'll press on! Thanks! :)

      Delete