Ann Edwards Cannon
Harlow S. Clark
Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1991. Mass-market paperback:
Suggested retail price: $4.50 (US)
Love Letter in a Yearbook
I so enjoyed A. E. Cannon's Cal Cameron by Day, Spider-Man byNight, and The Shadow Brothers. They captured a part ofProvo I knew when I was growing up, people I knew and places. I'veseen the hearse Marcus Jenkins and Henry Yazzie drive around in --it's right down in the next neighborhood -- and the apple orchard atthe end of the novel. And the crazy old man in the park Cal Camerondoesn't want to meet, but has to because that's partly what the novelis about.
I especially liked how The Shadow Brothers handledsymbolism. I'd always thought of symbolism as literary puzzle, but thehearse is such an organic symbol. Teenage boys love shocking andslightly macabre things, and if one of the boys comes from a culture,like Navaho, that doesn't talk of the dead, the car gains all kinds ofresonance, culture lost and sought and wanted and confused. "Apple,"the new boy in school, Frank, a Hopi, calls Henry, "Red on theoutside, white inside." There are a lot of apples in the valley, a lotof orchards -- were a lot more, so when Marcus and Henry run past onepracticing for a race, I felt joyful resonance between landscape andcharacters.
So I was thrilled when Ann gave me a copy of Amazing Gracie. Imoved to Pleasant Grove's small library before I could read the ProvoLibrary's copy. The cover picture always intrigued me. A girl sittingon a floor amidst packing boxes and wadded newspaper, holding a highschool yearbook on her lap, but not looking at it, troubled bysomething.
Her mother's picture. She was ordinary, just like Gracie, and nowshe's tried to kill herself -- even before the novel starts. I readsomewhere a comment that adults don't come off too well in YAnovels. The comment suggested that this was part of the moralbreakdown of our society. But it's not. It's a convention of the YAnovel, a convention of stories about children becoming, trying (ortrying not) to become adults, often without the help of adults (whomay want to forget they were ever children, ever went throughsomething as harrowing as teen age).
Amazing Gracie both expresses and addresses that concern withthe genre. A good deal of the story's action is about trying to findadults who can help, and when Gracie's mother marries a man she knewin high school who quits his job at Geneva Steel to start an MLMbusiness, you can guess things will turn out badly.
I won't tell you that, though. You'll have to read the story. Thereare other ways for that situation to work itself out (no I don't meana big pot of money), and in the way the story works out, in the way itaddresses the role of adults, I realized something astonishing. Forall their rebellion -- whatever that is -- teens want the attentionand approval of adults. (That's astonishing? You have two teenage sonsand you don't understand this? Well, I don't see them often, and Iam a bear of very little brain.) But this story isn't simply astory of want, it tells of want satisfied, which engenders hope, andmuch enjoyment. Find yourself a copy. It's a good world to wander in.
Oh, and about the setting. I've been to those railroad tracks inAmerican Fork that Gracie walks along, and when Gracie talks about howpeople from AF are called wuzzers, because they say was insteadof were, that's my neighbor across the back fence. I wassurprised, looking at my notes that I read this more than a year ago,February 2001. I was sure I read it last summer, but I guess that'sjust how well the story evokes hot Salt Lake summer nights. I noticethere's a new book about to come out, On the Go with Pirate Peteand Pirate Joe. I can't wait to see where that takes me.
Harlow S. Clark
© 2002 Harlow S. Clark < firstname.lastname@example.org >