Quote from Out of the Dust

Youth Fiction that Deals with Death

Introduction

Children’s authors are not afraid of tackling the hard issues both young people and adults have to deal with . We all have lost or will lose someone we love. Children will face the death of young schoolmates. Some will face the death of parents and grandparents — perhaps even siblings. It’s somewhat ironic, but also appropriate, that  I read  two of the  Newbery books I reviewed here in the first anniversary week of my own mother’s death, and they were about the death of a parent and a grandparent.

Before reading these books I perused the summaries by the Library of Congress or the back cover of the books for an idea of the plot. It strikes me how those summaries condense the plots into a couple of matter-of-fact sentences that convey little of the potential impact on the reader. They are but skeletons of a book’s contents, whereas the books themselves take readers beyond themselves into someone else’s mind, heart, and emotions.

Fiction on Death, Dying, and Bereavement

After the Rain by Norma Fox Mazer

Cover: After the RainAfter the Rain is the sort of book that you will keep thinking about long after you have finished reading it. It hit me especially hard, because I was reading it in the anniversary week of my own mother’s death, and I had been with her in the days and hours leading up to her death. Hospice and 24-hour caregivers did the most to meet Mom’s physical needs, but I wanted to be there to support her emotionally as she made her transition from this life to the next. I knew she did not fear death itself, but in a cancer death one loses much before one loses life. First the appetite goes. Then strength begins to ebb. And then one has to face the fact that one will not get better no matter how strong the will to live. And then one loses independence and dignity — the worst losses.

At the beginning of After the Rain we meet fifteen-year-old Rachel, a normal teenage Jewish girl who loves her family but does not always appreciate their interactions with her (such as having her parents continue to call her by their pet name for her –Mouse). She uses her prodigal brother Jeremy, who lives far away, as a sort of diary. She pours her feelings out to him often in letters which she never really expects answers to because, as Jeremy says, he never writes letters. Jeremy feels alienated from his family somewhat because he’s been married and divorced a few times and has never held a steady job.  On one visit he made just to spend time with his grandfather, he came out of the meeting shaking. Grandfather had chided him about his lifestyle and ended by laying almost a curse on Jeremy: “You’re too old now, The time is gone. You’ve lost your chance for a decent life. “

Grandfather is pretty hard for the rest of the family to get along with, too. Rachel and her parents visit him every Sunday and Rachel also calls him about once a week, but there are few safe subjects to talk about. To quote from the book: “Driving nails into cement is probably an easier chore than carrying on a conversation with Izzy.”  The weather is usually safe. The same questions get asked in almost every conversation, and the always repeated answers are predictable. Izzy has not spoken to his brother in years. So, I’m sure you get the picture. He’s not easy to talk to or visit. He assumes his family calls and comes over because it’s the right thing to do, but nobody takes much joy in the visits, because grandfather takes them for granted but doesn’t open up and talk to them. They usually wind up playing Scrabble.

Izzy tries to stay in shape by walking four miles a day. (He’s in his 80s, as was my mother when she died.) He’s had a bit of trouble with his stomach and the doctors have done some tests, but the results aren’t in yet. Rachel’s mother, Shirley, takes Izzy to the hospital for some more tests. When the doctor comes to release him, he tells the family he has a virus and Izzy should go home and do whatever he feels like doing, even if the virus seems to hang on a bit. Then the doctor calls and wants Shirley to come see him, and Rachel goes along. That’s when they find out Izzy has lung cancer. But the doctor didn’t tell them the truth in front of Izzy because he wants Izzy to remain optimistic. There is no treatment that will help since the disease has progressed too much and Izzy is too old for surgery (as  was my own mother.) The doctor sees no reason to tell  Izzy, for it might take away his will to live. Although the doctor admits he’s not God and cannot be absolutely sure, his medical opinion is that Izzy has but two or three more months to live. This hits the family like a ton of bricks.

Was this a wise decision? When Mom got the bad news, she was given only four weeks, and she couldn’t believe it. It was good she had the chance to adjust and to talk it out with family. It was good for us because we could concentrate on spending more time with her and helping her do anything she still wanted to do. It meant that my brother who lives five hours away and usually only comes on holidays made the effort to spend every Saturday, his only day off,  to visit,  as long as she was alive. It meant we could get help from hospice and Mom could be at home with her family until the end. For that to happen, the patient has to know what’s ahead and choose hospice care. Izzy did not have that chance. Reading this book showed me what it might have been like the other way, and assures me we made the right choice.

Since Izzy doesn’t know how sick he is, he continues to walk. One day when Rachel is home alone after school she gets a call from an Alice Farnum, who tells her Izzy has fallen in front of her house and wants someone to come get him. He won’t hear of an ambulance, so Rachel calls her father and gets only an answering machine. She doesn’t want to panic her mother, so she walks over to Alice’s, but has no way to get Izzy back to his apartment. He won’t let them call a taxi and Alice doesn’t have her car at home. So Izzy, as might be expected insists on walking back. He doesn’t want to let Rachel come with him, but she insists on “wasting her time” as Izzy puts it. Shirley is upset when she hears of the days events and calls Izzy to invite him to live with them, but he sees no need for it. Rachel takes matters into her own hands and calls Izzy to say she wants to walk with him the next day. He protests but she insists and tells him to wait for her.

The walk the next day is pretty quiet. But the walks continue, day after day, and gradually the two learn to talk to each other and Rachel learns to love her grandfather. When her friends invite Rachel to a birthday party for her best friend after school one day, she insists she can’t come because  she must be with her grandfather. But when they get back to the apartment after the walk, the friends are there with balloons and cake and inform her they’ve brought the party to her. They come in and decorate the apartment and eat cake and then put on records to dance. Rachel is not sure all this is good for Grandpa, but he seems to join in the spirit of the thing and tries to become the life of the party. Then Rachel’s friend asks Izzie to dance with her.  Izzie tells everyone how he used to dance with his wife when she was alive. He raises his hands and wiggles his hips. He’s acting 60 years younger and having a wonderful time.

Then he says ‘I used to pick my wife up with one hand…put my hand on the floor…’ He bends over, demonstrating. ‘Like this. She’d stand on it and …I’d raise her. Pick her up… straight up in the air….’  and then Izzy tries to lift the somewhat heavy Helena off the floor. Rachel can’t bear to look. Izzy is puffing and straining to lift Helena. Everyone has gone quiet. Izzy begins to sweat and his breath starts coming like a bellows. Rachel yells for him to stop. He continues to lift until Helena is off the ground, but his face is gray, sweating. He finally sets her down with a thump. And he says “you…see,’ and he smiles a strange smile which remains frozen on his face after he finally sits down on the couch. The young people, except for Rachel, make their exit, knowing that the party is over. Rachel cleans up and wipes Izzy’s face with a wet washcloth and covers him with a blanket. She continues to sit there with him until after dark, until he wakes up again and says, ‘Still here? Go home darling.’

The next day is a beautiful day and Izzy wants to walk. They eat some lunch at a small restaurant where Grandpa has a dish of his favorite walnut maple ice cream, but he only has a couple of bites. They go back out on the sidewalk and he suddenly stops and says he can’t go any further and his face is covered with sweat. Rachel gets him into a hardware store across the street and the woman behind the counter gets a chair for him while Rachel calls her father. By the time Rachel’s father Manny gets there, Izzy has recovered a bit and he tells Manny, ‘My granddaughter gave… me a beautiful…day.’ This time Izzy goes to the hospital for good, though the doctor assures him he’ll be home soon. Grandpa knows better, since he’s already made Rachel tell him his diagnosis.

As Grandpa gets worse, Rachel is the only one who feels comfortable with him because they have learned to communicate and she is not afraid to be honest with him.  She insists on staying away from school while he’s in the hospital so she can be with him — over the objections of her parents. She goes to school one day to explain everything to her teachers and to get her work to do at the hospital. And she is adamant about staying with Grandpa on his last night, after her parents leave and over their protests.  She senses he won’t last until morning, and he doesn’t. She experienced the death watch as I did, only there were interruptions by doctors and nurses with their procedures when they shooed Rachel out. It was evident how much Rachel’s presence there meant to Izzy — and to Rachel herself. Grandpa knew she was no longer caring for him out of duty but out of love, and that was a gift he accepted.

The people at hospice say a person chooses his time of death, so all of us caring for mom while she was in her final coma were told to always tell her when we were leaving or entering the room so she could die alone or with someone. I’m convinced that Grandpa gave Rachel the gift of sharing his departure. I won’t go through the final arrangements or the family interactions after Jeremy and brother Phil come home. For me it was the growth in both Rachel and Izzy that were important. Rachel’s watch  brought back my own last hours with Mom, reading to her from her Book of Common Prayer, knowing that though she was in a coma, her sense of hearing was still there. And when it became evident the end was very near, I called my brother and held the phone to Mom’s ear so he could say his final goodbye and give her permission to go instead of trying to hold out until his next visit, which was still a few days away.

This is the sort of book that has a lingering impact on the reader. The death and dying are very realistic. And they take time. Rachel slows her life down to fit Grandpa’s needs just as she slowed her steps as she walked with him. As they gave of themselves, they both grew more whole. Newbery Honor Book, 1988.

Review of Bridge to TerabithiaBridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.  This is a story of two fifth grade friends who really had no other friends. Jess was the only boy in a family of girls. His passion was drawing, which his father felt was useless. Leslie was the  only  child of hippie parents who moved to the old Perkins place, a run-down house near Jess, where no one ever stayed for long.

Leslie is a tomboy who kills Jess’s dream of being the fastest runner of all the fifth graders — a spot he was sure of having in the new school year. Winning the foot races was his key to feeling important at something that counted with his peers. Except for recess, he hated school. He had a lot of chores at home, including milking the cow.

Leslie also feels like a misfit in a new school. Her mother and father are writers and Leslie wears jeans everywhere. The other students tease and harass her because of how she dresses and because the teacher loves her above average academic work. Leslie has moved from Washington, D. C. and her parents were readers, who sometimes even read books in other languages. In contrast, education was not a priority in Jess’s family. It was the work around home that counted.

Jess, as the middle child, despises his older sisters who seem to get away with evading their chores and shooting off their mouths in ways that annoy him. His little sisters get on his nerves, especially, the youngest, Joyce Ann. He seems to have more patience with May Belle, who is next below him in age.

Once Jess and Leslie establish their friendship, they decide they need a special place no one knows about but them.  They discover a  place in the woods behind Leslie’s house. There was an old crab apple tree on the bank of a dry creek bed n which an old rope hung. They decide to make this their kingdom — a magic land like Narnia. They would swing across the creek on the rope to enter this land. They establish rituals and  their own way of speaking when there, and consider themselves the king and queen of their Terabithia. It would their secret and their place to escape from everyone else. They go there often.

Jesse has one other person outside his family who is special to him — his music teacher. On Friday afternoons for half an hour she teaches his class songs. Miss. Edmunds, whom he calls Julia in his daydreams, is his crush,   and he is the only teacher with whom he has shared his drawings.

As the book progresses, the friendship between Leslie and Jess grows closer. The only bright spots in Jess’s days are Friday afternoon music classes and the time he spends with Leslie in Terabithia.

Just before Easter Sunday, the one  time during the year Jess’s family goes to church, Leslie asks if she can come along, since she’s never been to church. Jess can’t believe anyone would want to go to church, but he persuades his parents to let Leslie come with them.

Afterwards, Jess, Leslie, and May Belle discuss the sermon and Jesus. May Belle tells Leslie she needs to read the Bible because if she doesn’t God will damn her to hell. Leslie says she doesn’t believe God goes around damning little girls to hell. May Belle quite seriously asks Leslie, “What if you die? What’s going to happen to you if you die?”

The Monday after Easter it started to rain. That didn’t keep the children from going to Terabithia. By  now the rain had put water in the creek, and Jess, who couldn’t swim, was a bit afraid to cross over on the rope, but after Leslie went, he followed. Leslie decided the rain was an evil rain and they went to their sacred grove to seek a way to combat the evil that had come to their kingdom.

They returned to Terabithia on Tuesday and Wednesday, and each day Jess became more afraid of the rising water. He knew Leslie could swim, but he couldn’t. He really did not want to go back on Thursday, the next day, nor did he want to admit his fear. As he was milking the cow in the morning, his sisters came to tell him a lady was on the phone for him, and it was Miss Edmunds, inviting him to go with her to the Smithsonian Museum of Art.

At first he thought of asking if Leslie could come along, but then he decided he wanted to share this special time alone with Miss Edmunds. They had a wonderful day together, but when Jess gets home, he can tell immediately that something is wrong. His parents break it to him that Leslie is dead. She went to Terabithia, the rope broke, and she hit her head and drowned.

Jess goes through all the normal stages of grief. He won’t believe  she’s dead. Then he gets angry with her. He hits May Belle hard in the face. And so on.  As he works through his grief, Jess begins to learn where he fits into his family. And at the end he is beginning to find a measure of peace.

This is a story of personal growth that ends sadly, with a hint that life can  go on after all. It would be a good book  to read to a preteen child who has lost a special friend, sibling, or parent to death. It would help that young person to understand how grief can express itself in strange ways, and show the way back to restoring relationships when one has lashed out unjustly at loved ones while grieving.  I highly recommend it. Parents should be  prepared to deal with theological issues raised in their own way.

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

This poignant story of a friendship between two twelve-year-old boys that led to tragedy will provide a wealth of discussion topics for families and students. The boys, Joel, the cautious one, and Tony, the teasing dare-devil, are first seen arguing about whether to go climb the dangerous bluffs at the state park where a boy had been killed doing exactly that within the year. Tony implies Joel is too scared, and Joel denies it, saying he’d just rather go swimming or work on the tree house the two boys are building. Tony says he doesn’t feel like going swimming.

In fact, Tony rarely feels like swimming or doing anything else Joel wants to do. Joel wonders why they ever became friends except for Tony’s mother, Mrs. Zabrinsky, being his baby-sitter since he was six months old, after his mother went back to work.  That kept the boys in each other’s company, even though now Joel  only had to check in with Mrs. Zabrinsky after school.

It becomes apparent to Joel he will not be able to talk Tony out of his dangerous idea, so, seeing his father as they are about to leave, he asks his father’s permission, sure he will say no and get him off the hook. Joel argues (for Tony’s ears) to convince his father is won’t be dangerous, promising to go only to the state park and nowhere else. Mr. Bates asks Tony if he has his mother’s permission and he lies that he does.

Mr. Bates finally makes Joel promise he will watch for traffic and won’t go anywhere but the park. “On your honor?” he asks Joel.

“On my honor,” Joel repeated.

Reluctantly, Joel’s father gives his consent, greatly letting Joel down. He’s been relying on his father’s “no” to protect him when he was afraid to say “no” himself.

I’ll skip some of the details that show how easy it is for Tony to manipulate Joel. When Joel, riding Tony’s old bike because Tony had requisitioned his Schwinn with gears, catches up with Tony on the bridge over the river, Tony decides he might rather go swimming after all — but not in the pool Joel likes in town. No. Tony suggests swimming in the polluted river with dangerous currents.

Joel objects that its polluted and after some argument, Tony runs down into the water. When Tony was up to his knees he again asks Joel if he’s coming in. They have this exchange:

‘I’m waiting for you to drown, Joel answered.’ I just want to see it so I can tell your folks. “

‘Keep them from worrying,’ Tony tossed back.

‘Keep your mom from waiting supper,’ Joel replied.

They both laughed before Tony said, ‘Well, are you coming in or are you just going to stand there and gawk?’ So after a snappy comeback, Joel gets in, warning Tony to be careful of the current. Tony clowns around, saying the current was sucking him under, toppling over backward, and then rising up again pretending he’s a prehistoric monster. Joel is used to this typical Tony behavior – always teasing, always clowning.

Joel tries to swim without putting his head into the polluted river, but doesn’t enjoy it. Tony goads Joel into a fight in the water. Tony gets mad and starts to leave the water, saying he’s going to go climb the bluffs by himself. Joel didn’t want to go or have Tony go alone, so he urges Tony to stay at the river. He even puts his face in the water when Tony throws his words about the pollution back at him. Tony says Joel is just scared, and Joel rebounds with

“‘Who’s scared?….You’re the one who’s scared. Why I bet you wouldn’t even’ — he hesitated, looking around for something to challenge Tony with, something he wouldn’t mind doing himself — ‘swim to that sandbar out there.'”

They argue about the depth of the river, since Tony believes the river won’t get deep enough to go over his head. Joel warns that river depths change suddenly, but Tony says he isn’t scared if Joel isn’t and they take off toward the sandbar.

As you may suspect, Tony gets caught in the current before Joel realizes it. When he doesn’t see Tony behind him, he thinks Tony is teasing again, but it soon becomes evident he’s disappeared. Joel swims toward where he was and searches with all his strength to no avail. He finally throws on his jeans and runs to the road to try to find help. They don’t find Tony.

Joel, of course blames himself. At the same time, he is afraid. He goes through some useless motions as he tries to think what to tell his dad and Tony’s folks. He puts off facing them until night. His guilt eats him up. He hides in his dark room until his folks  find him, and everyone wants to know where Tony is.  Joel thinks back to that last conversation with his father before leaving. He realizes he “had proved what his honor was  worth, what he was worth.”

I’ll make you read the book to find out the rest. Chapters 11 and 12 were the parts I liked best, as Joel is expecting his father to punish him when the truth comes out. He actually wants to be punished, thinking that will somehow cleanse his guilt. His father gently handles the situation in quite a different way, a way that helps Joel see that the consequences of some choices can’t be undone.

I recommend reading this aloud in families with children who seem susceptible to peer pressure or who tend to apply the pressure themselves. Parents of such children should also read this. It’s short and quick reading –only 90 easy pages. The publisher says the reading level is 5.5. I wouldn’t encourage independent reading before middle school because of the subject matter.  I would encourage teachers to read it aloud to middle school classes and discuss it. It might save a life. Newbery Honor Book, 1987.

Purchase On My Honor here.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Review of Out of the Dust and Other Books for Children and Teens that Deal with DeathIn Out of the Dust, Billie Jo, a 13-year-old who lives in Oklahoma’s dust bowl in poverty with her parents, loses her mother in an accident. Her father left a can of kerosene by the stove, and her ma thought it was water and poured it, to make coffee. It made instead “a rope of fire.”

Billie Jo and her ma ran out of the kitchen, but then Billie Jo ran back to get the burning pail to save the kitchen and threw it out the door, not knowing her mother was on her way back in. Her pregnant mother caught fire and Billie Jo threw herself on her to try to smother the flames to save her and the baby. Ma slowly dies and is in pain all the time until she does. Billie Jo’s hands also get burned in the fire, and she can no longer play her mother’s much-loved piano, which is how she has always worked out her emotions.

As Billie Jo tells her tragic story of her mother’s death, she explains it like this: Daddy found the money Ma kept squirreled in the kitchen under the threshold. It wasn’t very much. But it was enough for him to get good and drunk. He went out last night. While Ma moaned and begged for her water, he drank up the emergency money until it was gone….I tried to help her. I couldn’t aim the dripping cloth into her mouth. I couldn’t squeeze. It hurt the blisters on my hands to try. I only made it worse for Ma. She cried for the pain of the water running into her sores, she cried for the water that would not soothe her throat and quench her thirst, and the whole time my father was in Guymon drinking. 

The next day the grasshoppers come and eat everything green that is left, including all the leaves and fruit on Ma’s favorite apple trees. Billie Jo writes “I couldn’t tell her, couldn’t bring myself to say her apples were gone. I never had a chance….Ma died that day giving birth to my brother.” The brother also died. The neighbors came to help prepare the bodies for burial. The Reverend led the service. The women came back to scrub and clean the house and Billie Jo listened as they talked about her throwing the pail. And this is Billie Jo’s take on it: “‘Billie Jo threw the pail,’ they said. ‘An accident,’ they said. Under their words a finger pointed….They didn’t talk about my father leaving kerosene by the stove. They didn’t say a word about my father drinking himself into a stupor while Ma writhed, begging for water. They only said Billie Jo threw the pail of kerosene. “

The dust gets  worse. Billie Jo misses her mother’s touch and the few words she used to speak. Billie Jo can’t play her piano anymore because of her burnt hands — it’s too painful. Billie Jo and her father can’t seem to talk to each other in their grief, so Billie Jo decides to go to California to get out of the dust. By the time she gets to Arizona, after seeing the poor everywhere along the way, she decides to go back home because she realizes things won’t really be better anywhere else. When she returns, communication opens up with her father again, spring and rain come to settle the dust and water the crops, and both father and daughter (after some initial resistance on Billie Jo’s part) open their hearts to the coming of a new woman in the house.  Billie Jo sums up her feelings near the end: “The way I see it, hard times aren’t only about money, or drought, or dust. Hard times are about losing spirit, and hope, and what happens when dreams dry up”

On the very last page we see Billie Jo in the kitchen, waiting for Daddy to bring his new friend over for dinner and she says: “I wipe the dust out of the roasting pan, I wipe the dust off Ma’s dishes, and wait for Daddy to drive in with Louise, hoping she’ll stay a little later, a little longer, waiting for the day when she stays for good. “

As I ponder this book, and compare it to After the Rain, I know I’d rather be Rachel in After the Rain, than Billie Jo, whose life was hard even before her mother died. I’ve been where Rachel was, except my mother and I did not need impending death to open our hearts to each other. I cannot imagine watching a death such as Billie Jo had to watch and being without the family support that both I and Rachel had.

Out of the Dust is written in blank verse, which makes it a fast read. The form suits the content, for poetry is the perfect vehicle to describe the dust that is everywhere, covering and killing everything, providing the backdrop for the town’s life. It is also the ideal form for Billie Jo to use to express the depth of her emotions without getting emotional. Both Rachel and Billie Jo are people worth knowing — people who have dealt with  death close up and the grief that followed it and been able to work it through and go on with their lives. Newbery Medal winner, 1998.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Cover of Walk Two Moons Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons,  was the first of these books on death I read. From the title alone I expected an Indian theme, and if you read the book you will see why I didn’t say Native American. But Indian ancestry of the main character, Sal, is only incidental, and not where the title comes from.

In this book, we enter into the lives of Sal, Phoebe, their families, and their ways of thinking. Three characters in the book at some point, do not live with their mothers. Sal’s mother is dead, but it is only implied until the end. Phoebe’s mother seems to be an unappreciated supermom, who does everything right, but leaves home for a while in the middle of the book. She leaves notes to all about the food in the freezer she’s left and other instructions, but no way to contact her. She will call in about a week. Next door to Phoebe lives Mrs. Cadaver, whose husband is dead, and who is the reason Sal and her dad had to move to this little box house with almost no land  — away from the house in Bybanks, Kentucky by the Ohio River, with her maple, willow, and chestnut trees, the barn, hayloft, and swimming hole.

Sal fears her father’s interest in Margaret Cadaver is a betrayal of her mother. Phoebe is convinced that Mrs. Cadaver killed her husband and cut him into pieces and buried him in the backyard. Phoebe is also convinced that a lunatic is after her household when a young man comes to the door wanting her mother, who wasn’t home, and left no message when he could not see her. Then the strange notes started arriving on Phoebe’s doorstep — left by the lunatic, of course. All these facts about Phoebe come out as Sal tells her story to her grandparents on a trip to Lewiston, Idaho — the trip her mother took when she left them. They are taking Sal to find her mother.

I forgot Ben. He lives with his cousin Mary Lou, all of her siblings, and her parents. Their household is what you’d call rambunctious –lots of wild activity and rather loose discipline. Sal wonders why Ben doesn’t live with his own mother, but she later learns his mother is in a mental hospital — the same day Phoebe and Sal have tracked the lunatic (whose identity Sal had discovered) to his university. Phoebe is convinced he has kidnapped her mother. But when they find the “lunatic” they both feel sick. He is sitting on a bench on the grounds, and he is kissing Phoebe’s mother. (This is not exactly what it appears to be, and the reason comes later that evening, when Phoebe’s mother comes home.)

One thing a reader will really enter into is the fertile imagination possessed by thirteen-year-old girls. Another theme is the denial felt when one loses a loved one. Both Sal’s father and Mrs. Cadaver try to explain to Sal about their relationship, but Sal is so sure she knows what it is, she won’t listen. Finally, the night Phoebe’s mother comes home, right before the trip, Mrs. Cadaver finally makes her listen. Sal has already discovered from her teacher, who turns out to be Mrs. Cadaver’s brother, that Mr. Cadaver died in a tragic automobile accident and that Mrs. Cadaver was the nurse on duty in the emergency room when her husband was brought in, along with Mrs. Cadaver’s mother, who was blinded in the accident.

By the time Sal has driven 100 miles on the  terrifying curvy road from Coeur d’Alene to the top of Lewiston Hill,  the highway on which her mother’s bus had crashed, and seen its broken remains, jagged metal, and the holes through which rescuers had removed the victims, she already knows that only one person had survived — Mrs. Cadaver, who had been sitting next to her mother. By this time she also is found by the sheriff, who sees her trying to find a way into the bus to see if anything of her mother’s is there.

She explains she is driving because her grandmother had a stroke just before they got to Coeur d’Alene and her grandparents are at the hospital . She tells the sheriff she learned to drive on her grandfather’s farm, and  when he knew he needed to stay with his wife in  Coeur d’Alene, he  given Sal the car keys with the subtle message to get anything she needed because he know how badly Sal wanted to be in Lewiston the next day — her mother’s birthday.  The sheriff took her the rest of the way to her mother’s grave, and the deputy drove grandfather’s car.  As Sal gazed on  her mother’s final resting place, she was finally able to accept the fact that her mother was not coming back. And when she and grandfather’s car were driven back to the hospital, Gramps told her Gram had died early that morning. They do some grieving together.

Although my description might make the book seem depressing, it really wasn’t. There were touches of humor throughout, and lots of signs of growing up as the girls realized how much of what they had thought when they had jumped to conclusions wasn’t true. At the end, Sal and her Dad are back at the farm in Bybanks, and Gramps is with them.  Sal is constantly thinking about what it might be like to walk two moons in other’s moccasins. She’s also working through her grief issues. All in all, I’d call the book moving, not depressing. It’s a great book for families or classes to read together and discuss.

There’s lots in the book there’s not room to comment on here, but one episode deals with the schoolteacher’s reading of student journals aloud — changing the names of course. I think that part has something important to say to teachers. Newbery Medal winner, 1995.

A World of Reading Choices