Saturday, February 27, 2010

Blue Willow by Doris Gates

I said it would be next and damnit, I keep my promises (sometimes). So here it is, my post on Blue Willow. Now, as a young 'un, I really liked this book. I wish I knew why. Someone obviously thought it was good literature; it's a Newbery Honor book. I read this thing pretty recently and did not particularly enjoy it, and will therefore not be reading it again before posting this. Skimming, maybe. On with the book!

Like the last book I wrote about, Blue Willow is about migrant workers. In this case, the main characters are workers themselves and the book follows their lives. We have Janey Larkin who lives with her Larkin parents. They live the migrant life, moving around constantly. Unlike most of the migrants, they never live in camps, preferring to fend for themselves wherever they can. At the beginning of the book, they're just settling down for what'll be a long stretch in an abandoned shack. Which would be well and good if it weren't for Bounce Reyburn (really his name) who, supposedly acting on behalf of the shack's owner, comes by to collect rent. Which they give him.

The other important characters include Lupe Romero and her family; they live across the street (I think?). They're Mexican and therefore Spanish speaking like practically every other migrant worker I've heard of in literature. Lupe and Janey become best friends.

Just a few plot points: Janey's father enters a cotton picking contest with the help of Lupe's father. They win and I think the prize is $1,000 which is a lot of money. Good for them.

Janey gets to go to school for awhile, but it's the camp school, not the real school where people who actually live around there go. Oh, um, I think "there" is California but don't quote me on that.

The really important thing I forgot to mention is the willow plate which, really, gives the book its name. The willow plate belonged to some ancestor of Janey's (though not of her parents because she's adopted. They kind of make a big deal about this but it doesn't really change anything plot wise). Anyway, the plate is one of those willow plates, you know the type, with a bridge and a house and stuff. Lupe's not too impressed by the plate and I think I'm not either, though it's Janey's most valuable (or valued) possession.

In fact, Janey tries to give the plate to a doctor so he'll save her sick mother. Turns out he doesn't want the plate. Later on, when the Larkins can't pay the rent, Janey offers the plate as rent instead. Old Bounce takes it and Janey cries. Not really. This should be the last month's rent as the Larkins are planning on leaving as soon as Mrs. Larkin is totally healthy.

God, this is getting long. Janey decides she has to see the plate one last time. She finds her way to the shack's owner's house. I think his name is Mr. Anderson and he's a nice guy. When Janey asks to see the plate, he has no idea what she's talking about. As any idiot might have guessed, Bounce was collecting the money for himself and kind Mr. Anderson never would have made poor people pay for the falling-down shack. As a result, Bounce gets fired and Mr. Larkin gets hired. Eventually, a real house is built for the family with the willow plate on display. Just as Janey wants, the Larkins get to stay there forever and ever. Amen.

Any points worth mentioning? I was totally thinking about going with the sarcasms but then I might actually have to read this thing. Okay, I might have a few.

  • When Bounce first comes to collect the rent, Mr. Larkin insists on receipts. Good for him. When he has to sign his name, Bounce says he'll put his John Henry on it. Because John Henry has so much to do with signatures.
  • Janey goes to the fair with the Romeros. While there she spends almost the whole time in the ubiquitous library booth. I'd laugh at her but I'd probably do the same thing.
  • Janey and Lupe get to be in some big May Day festival with poles and all. They dance barefoot and have a grand old time.
  • Before the May dance and stuff, there's a bunch of patriotic-ish stuff. America is great, the flag is great, it stands for freedom, though really, only grownups know what the flag really stands for.
  • In the "score one for feminism category" (which I may make a regular thing), we have this gem, "Janey had learned during her strange life that there are times when only men are important, when even grown-up women don't matter at all." At least this thing was written in 1940. Still, looks like Janey's got a nice future to look forward to.

Okay, that's it. I've had it with this book. I may do some Sweet Valley High next, for something a little different.

1 comment:

  1. John HENRY? Is that Bounce or the book's author being a stupidhead?