Men of Stone

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Overview

In Gayle Friesen's powerful novel, 15-year-old Ben can't make sense of his life. He lives in a house full of women, yet he can't talk to girls. He tries to be a jock, but can't even make the co-ed volleyball team. And ridicule from the guys has driven Ben to give up the one thing at which he truly excels -- dance. Now, he's being bullied by a thug named Claude, who's found out about Ben's ballet classes. Ben feels his anger and frustration grow with each passing day. Then Great-Aunt Frieda comes to visit and Ben ...
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Overview

In Gayle Friesen's powerful novel, 15-year-old Ben can't make sense of his life. He lives in a house full of women, yet he can't talk to girls. He tries to be a jock, but can't even make the co-ed volleyball team. And ridicule from the guys has driven Ben to give up the one thing at which he truly excels -- dance. Now, he's being bullied by a thug named Claude, who's found out about Ben's ballet classes. Ben feels his anger and frustration grow with each passing day. Then Great-Aunt Frieda comes to visit and Ben learns about the old woman's life in Russia. He's surprised at how Frieda dealt with the Men of Stone -- Stalin's agents who terrorized her community and family. As Frieda tells her powerful story, Ben begins to understand who he is and what kind of person he wants to be. But first he must get past the rage that has taken control of his life.
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Editorial Reviews

VOYA
Ever since his father died, fifteen-year-old Ben's life has been surrounded by women. Now in addition to his mother and older sisters, one more woman enters his life—his father's Aunt Frieda, whom he never met before. In talking to Frieda, Ben learns about his father and about Frieda's experiences living under the Stalinist regime—how Stalin's "men of stone," whose eyes no longer registered any emotion, came and took her Mennonite husband away. Ben uses what she shares with him in his own struggle with a violent schoolmate, who taunts Ben because he used to be a dancer. Ben learns to release his anger and literally to turn the other cheek, unlike his friend Stan, who ends up in a detention center when his troubled life causes him to explode. Although Aunt Frieda occasionally comes across as wiser than life when she waxes philosophic, the characters still remain believable, and Ben is a funny, likeable narrator. The symbiotic relationship between a young man and an old woman is a nice touch. Frieda helps Ben sort out feelings he has never been allowed to address, and he teaches her to dance. The subplot with Ben's friend remains unresolved, and worse yet, Ben seems no longer to care about Stan's fate after he exorcises his own demons. Nevertheless most plot elements come together satisfactorily, if a little neatly. Friesen deftly walks the tightrope of extolling the benefits of pacifism here without sounding too preachy, and she captures the voice of an appealing adolescent boy while doing it. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, KidsCan Press, 216p. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Karen Herc VOYA, February 2001 (Vol. 23, No.6)
Children's Literature
Since Ben's father was killed in an accident a decade earlier, it hasn't been easy for Ben to grow up in a house full of women. As if a worn-out mom and three gabby sisters weren't bad enough, now Great Aunt Frieda is coming for a visit. Ben has other problems, too. He can't get up the nerve to speak to a girl, his best friend wants to run away to Mexico, and the school bully has gotten wind that Ben has a passion for ballet dancing. But instead of compounding his problems, Aunt Frieda turns out to be easy to talk to—and to learn from. She tells Ben about his Mennonite roots, and how his ancestors fled Germany to Russia to escape persecution, only to find greater horrors under Stalin's regime. The goons under Stalin, men who seemingly possessed no souls, imprisoned thousands of innocent men and women, including Aunt Frieda's husband. Taking the lead from Frieda's strength, courage, and perseverance, Ben begins to put together a plan for his own life. 2000, Kids Can Press, $16.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-In this captivating tale, Ben Conrad, 15, confronts manhood and family. Raised in a household of four women, he finds his curiosity about his family history, including knowledge of his dad who died when Ben was five, sparked by an unexpected visit from his octogenarian Aunt Frieda. The boy learns of his Mennonite roots; his father's artistic talents; his mother's devastation by her husband's death; and his own talent as a dancer, which turns out to be part blessing and part curse. A local bully incites anger in the ordinarily restrained, sensitive Ben, and despite offers of help, he decides he must face him alone. In a journey of mind, body, and spirit, he learns to emphasize his strengths and conquer his weaknesses. The plot reveals itself through several characters but the message remains constant: Be true to yourself. The story is quick to read and engaging enough to interest even reluctant readers. Historical references to Frieda's life in Russia prompt readers to consider what it is like to be oppressed, whether by bullies in your neighborhood or in your government.-Lisa Denton, J. S. Russell JHS, Lawrenceville, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen-year-old Ben Conrad can't seem to catch a break. With three self-absorbed older sisters who treat him like a baby, and with a widowed mother who's still mourning her husband's loss ten years before and is too busy anyway to notice that her son is growing up, Ben can't make sense of his life. Who is he? Who will he become? While he does have two best friends who offer solace and support, his life's on an even more precipitous downturn since he gave up something he's really good at and enjoys—dancing—and since Claude, the school bully, has become increasingly menacing. Into this turmoil comes elderly great-aunt Frieda, a Mennonite survivor of Stalin's reign of terror. Her wisdom, patient understanding, and the stories she tells about how she faced up to the tragedies in her life with quiet courage help Ben grow in self-confidence and self-knowledge. How Frieda's influence helps Ben to work up the nerve to develop a relationship with the girl he likes and to use his dancing skills and natural agility to turn the tables on his nemesis, and, in short, to turn his life around, makes for a satisfying, logical progression of events. This Canadian import by the author of Janey's Girl (1998) is very well-written, and Ben is a fully realized, funny, and charming character. Whether many young readers will completely buy the premise that a teenager could be so powerfully transformed by an 85-year-old's accounts of long-ago events, however, is not at all a given. The ending, furthermore, is a bit too pat with the whole family's sudden awakening to Ben's needs and feelings. Worth a try, but may be a tough sell. (Fiction. 11-14)
The Book Report
Older adolescents, both boys and girls, will relate to Ben and his situation. Recommended.
From the Publisher
The plot reveals itself through several characters but the message remains constant: Be true to yourself. The story is quick to read and engaging enough to interest even reluctant readers. Historical references to Frieda’s life in Russia prompt readers to consider what it is like to be oppressed, whether by bullies in your neighborhood or in your government.

Very well-written.

Older adolescents, both boys and girls, will relate to Ben and his situation. Recommended.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781550747812
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Series: Gayle Friessen Ser.
  • Pages: 216
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Gayle Friesen's previous novels Janey's Girl and Men of Stone have both garnered critical praise. She lives in Delta, British Columbia.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2002

    An Amazing Outlook on the Life of Teenagers

    Men of Stone is an amazing book. Gayle Friesen did a spectacular job in capturing the essence of Mennonite, and teenage life. Through fictional characters she portrayed the feeling of life in the past and present. I believe that her unique way of combining the two different lifestyles is what truly transports you into the book.

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