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Amaryllis
     

Amaryllis

by Craig Crist-Evans
 

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"This is a powerful tale of family, forgiveness, and acceptance of what life throws in our paths - but ultimately, with its almost painful realism, this is the finest depiction of war we've yet seen for young readers." — KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred review)

AMARYLLIS. It was the name of the ship that ran aground on Singer Island, Florida, during a

Overview

"This is a powerful tale of family, forgiveness, and acceptance of what life throws in our paths - but ultimately, with its almost painful realism, this is the finest depiction of war we've yet seen for young readers." — KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred review)

AMARYLLIS. It was the name of the ship that ran aground on Singer Island, Florida, during a hurricane in 1965. It became a battle cry for Jimmy Staples and his older brother, Frank, and a code word for going surfing together. But now that eighteen-year-old Frank is off battling the enemy (and his own addictive demons) in Vietnam and fifteen-year-old Jimmy is left to deal with the repercussions at home, "Amaryllis" takes on an ominous new meaning - a symbol of what happens when life places the unexpected in our paths.

Craig Crist-Evans has written a wrenching novel of a family whose internal battles chase one son away - into the clutches of a war and an enemy he could never have imagined. Told both from a soldier's view and by the brother he leaves behind, Amaryllis is an ideal choice for students learning about the Vietnam era, or for any reader curious about the reality of war.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in the '60s, Crist-Evans's (Moon Over Tennessee: A Boy's Civil War Journal) painful tale uses metaphors, flashbacks and two forms of narration to describe an American family embattled at home and later caught up in the war in Vietnam. An impressionistic rather than chronological structure signals to readers early on that this book is largely about the emotional impact of experiences that are not easily or immediately understood; however, a literary-minded audience will likely respond to the author's use of imagery. Jimmy, the main character, misses his older brother, Frank, who has shocked everyone by enlisting in the army just after graduating high school-and just after winning their alcoholic, often abusive father's approval for the first time (Frank had risked his own life to rescue a surfer from a shark near the site of the shipwrecked Amaryllis; downed in a hurricane, the Amaryllis looms with varying symbolic values throughout). Meanwhile Frank writes lengthy letters to Jimmy, contrasting the lushness of the tropical jungles with the incomprehensible horrors of war, and alarming Jimmy with descriptions of his growing addiction to heroin. And then the letters stop altogether. Jimmy, like Frank before him, cannot talk to either of his parents, particularly not his father, but the silence from Vietnam finally ignites the family tensions. Teens may relate most readily to the father/son conflicts, but the passages about Vietnam may be what they remember longest. Ages 14-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
Amaryllis is the name of a Greek freighter that ran aground on the Florida coast during a hurricane in 1965�an unexpected obstacle looming over the beach, just as Vietnam looms over the lives of the two brothers in this novel. Frank, the older brother, goes off to war to escape their father, "an angry, drunken bastard." His letters to his younger brother Jimmy, describing the horrors of war and how he tries to copes with them, alternate with Jimmy's narrative of life at home. Jimmy misses Frank very much; they used to surf and hang out together, and he is distraught when he learns that Frank has turned to heroin for solace. When Frank is missing in action, Jimmy blames their father for his role in pushing Frank away, but comes to understand that the man loves both of them, in his own fashion. Crist-Evans, a poet and writer, is also the author of Moon Over Tennessee: A Boy's Civil War Journal, and this historical fiction is equally poetic and moving. He has a memorable way with words, describing, for example, waves "punching hard against the shore" as the wind rises, or the beach "stretched like a sleeping cat in the light of the rising sun." The cover, depicting surfers as well as ghostly soldiers and choppers, will draw readers in, and this poignant coming-of-age tale about war in a household as well as "in country" will resonate with teenage boys struggling with family relationships or wondering what the Vietnam War was really like. The unflinching descriptions of violent deaths in the war, as well as a few profanities, recommend this to more mature readers. KLIATT Codes: S�Recommended for senior high school students. 2003, Candlewick Press, 184p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
Children's Literature
Fifteen-year-old Jimmy's older brother Frank is off fighting a stalled, pointless war in Vietnam, where he spends less time battling the elusive enemy than battling his own inner demons-horror at the violent deaths of his buddies, a new addiction to heroin in the aftermath of his own combat injury, his ongoing resentment against his alcoholic dad, whose endless abuse drove him to Vietnam in the first place. Jimmy reads his brother's eloquent letters, revisits their favorite surfing spot by the shipwrecked vessel Amaryllis, and gropes his way toward first love as he waits for his brother to come home. Both boys feel, in Frank's words, "kind of like the Amaryllis, stuck with my nose in the sand. Is that damned ship still there? I mean, shouldn't it be out there sailing around, lugging stuff from one port to another? That's me." Frank's letters are a tad too perfectly crafted and literary, and any reader can predict what has to happen the moment Frank writes home to Jimmy that he's decided to make a new life for himself as soon as he gets through one last mission. . . . But the tensions in Jimmy's family are sensitively drawn, with the father-son dynamics exquisitely painful, and the image of the mighty freighter run aground on the Florida sands will stay with the reader long after the last page of this haunting coming-of-age novel. 2003, Candlewick, Ages 12 up.
— Claudia Mills
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-In 1967, the wreck Amaryllis creates perfect waves off Singer Island, FL, for surfers Frank and Jimmy Staples. The Vietnam War, however, looms on the horizon, and 18-year-old Frank enlists in order to escape his abusive father. Over the course of a year, he sends his younger brother letters from overseas. He becomes a heroin addict while recovering from a bullet wound, but Jimmy keeps this horrifying discovery from their parents. Finally, in the fall of 1968, Frank is listed as missing in action. Jimmy, heartbroken, lashes out and blames his father but eventually realizes there are no easy answers in life. Crist-Evans has written an interesting, although somber, account of a troubled family in emotional turmoil. Both teens are believable and likable characters with whom many young adults will identify. Frank's letters are fascinating and disturbing, and his descent into drug addiction is harrowing. However, the author does not fully explore or expand on the symbolism of the ship in his story. Otherwise, this is a crisply written and a worthwhile addition to fiction collections.-Robert Gray, East Central Regional Library, Cambridge, MN Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In 1965, Hurricane Betsy ran the banana freighter Amaryllis aground on Singer Island, Florida, and now the monstrous hulk looms there, a symbol of Frank Staples's experience in Vietnam: hurt, far from home, and "stuck with my nose in the sand." The war has blown him off course, and now in a series of letters, he tells younger brother Jimmy what the war is like-friends killed, pot to ease the boredom, heroin to kill the pain, and letters to keep alive some connection with "the World." Jimmy's first-person narrative details memories of Frank: surfing, camping in the Everglades, rescuing a boy attacked by a shark, and coping with the family dynamics that turned Frank away. Crist-Evans weaves two pitch-perfect voices into a story that is immediate and emotionally honest, never reaching for easy answers or neat resolutions-but ultimately, with its almost painful realism, this is the finest depiction of war we've yet seen for young readers. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780763629908
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Publication date:
03/14/2006
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.55(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

My brother Frank's eighteen. Just turned last March. He always said he'd do anything to get out of this house. But join the army and go to Vietnam? Don't get me wrong. It's not that I think he's stupid for signing up; it's just that I worry. I mean, watch the news. Villages getting napalmed, Vietcong crawling through the jungle, lying in wait, then pouncing in the middle of the night. At the end of every segment, Walter Cronkite lists the body count. It usually sounds pretty good for us, but there are always body bags with American flags draped over them getting loaded into cargo planes.

Dad doesn't say much about it, and it makes me wonder if he secretly hopes Frank gets killed. I know parents aren't supposed to think that way about their kids, but my dad is a case. When Frank was still around, sometimes they'd yell so loud the neighbors would call my mom and ask her to make them stop. Sometimes she'd stand there, her hair pulled back tight, arms crossed over her chest, and watch them, knowing there was nothing at all she could say that would end it. She always got a look on her face that seemed to say, I didn't ask for this. Please let there be peace in this house. Sloopy, our basset hound, got into it too. After a couple of rounds of escalating voices, she'd chime in, howling like the moon was coming up in our own backyard.

I've never figured out why Dad hated Frank so much. Maybe because Frank was not afraid of him. Maybe it's just that everything about Frank confused Dad. Frank was smart and able to talk really well. I know it sounds funny, but my brother is a philosopher. The two of them would get into an argument and Frank would almost always make his point in a way that Dad couldn't argue with, so Dad would smack him or ground him for a week instead. Actually, I think it's more that in Frank, Dad saw all the things he could have been if he hadn't gotten married so young and had all of us to take care of, as if he both envied and resented Frank at the same time.

I don't want to paint a completely awful picture. My dad has his good moments. Last week, he took me to the beach and sat in the sand for two hours while I paddled out and waited for the lines of big swells to turn into waves. When I came in, soaked to the bones, as he would say, and burnt from the salt and the sun, we jumped in the car and headed back along A1A.

Singer Island is not the greatest place to surf. It's not the greatest place to drive either, but Dad seemed calm and happy as we passed the hotels and tennis clubs, the rows of houses, the little artificial jungles of palmetto, sable palm, and sea grape.

We had just passed the AMARYLLIS when, out of the blue, Dad asked, "Do you miss your brother?"

He sounded choked up, and that surprised me. I wanted to tell him that it scared me, that Frank was who I talked to when things were bad, that I couldn't imagine my brother lugging an M-16 into some swampy distance with a bunch of other boys his age who were probably all just fresh from "the World," as Frank has come to refer to every place except the war.

"I don't think about it much," I said.

Dad turned his head to look at me.

"Oh," he said.

We drove the rest of the way home in silence.

We turned left and crossed the Intracoastal Waterway. Along the rails of the bridge, a bunch of men and women stood, casting heavy lures and chunks of raw bait over the side and then reeling slowly. One man, fat enough to take two seats on a Greyhound bus, was sweating and tugging hard against his rod, bent almost double as he tried to bring in a big one.

Mom was in the kitchen when we got back.

"What have my boys been up to?" she said as I walked around the corner from the living room. She was bending over a large pot of something boiling on the stove, her hair tucked back behind one ear.

"Surfing!" Dad's voice boomed from the carport, as if he'd been hanging ten and tucking for some imaginary pipeline himself.

I've got mixed feelings about having him take me to the beach. On the one hand, I like to think we've got a normal relationship, that I can do things with my dad. On the other, it's just plain embarrassing to have him waiting on the dunes and then ranting about what fun we had. I mean, he sits there in his bright yellow windbreaker and those goofy sunglasses staring at the girls. I push out as far as I can go and watch the waves. I can't wait till next month when I get my license and can drive myself to the beach.

"Beef stew and succotash," my mother said, bending over me, "your favorite."

Where she gets these ideas, I don't know. Depending on when you ask, she'll tell you my "favorite" is meatloaf, broiled grouper, banana bread and peanut butter, or Cheerios with raisins and buttermilk. She doesn't have a clue. The truth is, I like just about anything, especially after being in the water all day.

________

AMARYLLIS by Craig Crist-Evans. Copyright (c) 2006 by Craig Crist-Evans. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA

Meet the Author

CRAIG CRIST-EVANS is the author of NORTH OF EVERYTHING and MOON OVER TENNESSEE: A BOY'S CIVIL WAR JOURNAL, for which he received the International Reading Association's Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. In addition, he published poems, articles, essays, and reviews in numerous journals. Craig Crist-Evans died in 2005.

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