Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan

Jake is the textbook juvenile delinquent. He has been kicked out of every public school in Rhode Island, and was shipped down to Traybridge North Carolina and his grandfather. Jake managed about 3 weeks at Traybridge Middle School before he was asked to leave as well. Lucille Applewhite had been conducting a poetry workshop at the school when Jake got kicked out and she suggested that Jake attend the Creative Academy: a home school that the Applewhites ran out of their home.

E.D. can’t imagine why Aunt Lucille thinks that their home school can help Jake when so many others had failed before. Then again, Aunt Lucille tends to see the good in everyone. Jake doesn’t exactly want to move into the Applewhite’s place either, but his social worker told him in no uncertain terms that it was this or Juvenile Hall.

When Jake arrives with his scarlet liberty spikes, piercings, foul mouth and cigarette habit, he doesn’t get much of the reaction that he is hoping for. Aside from the smoking, nobody seems to care. In fact, the family parrot swears more than he does.

The Applewhites are a family of artists with a capital “A”. The kind where the grown ups are too busy creating to go grocery shopping, forget to check in on the kids home school lessons, and can even forget what day it is. So Jake is left up to E.D. who is the lone organized, structure-loving member of the family. Neither of them are pleased and they manage to pretty much ignore each other.

It’s not until E.D.’s director dad gets asked to direct a community theatre production of the Sound of Music that everyone’s talents (even E.D.’s) get put to good use. Jake comes to see that he can separate himself from what his parents have made him.

With a cast of kooky characters, an angry goat, a scene stealing 4 year old, and a common goal, Stephanie S. Tolan has written a charming and thought-provoking story about family and self. How we define ourselves doesn’t have to mirror our parents and siblings, but each of us does have some definition of place within the idea of family. A Newbery Honor book for 2002.

1 comment:

Questa said...

This review made me buy the book after I'd picked it up, and I loved it! It's in a class by itself, and that's a good thing.