From the Publisher
“Economical, evocative prose reflects the leisurely pace of Southern living and movingly conveys family tensions, family love, and the power of stories to bring generations together.” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Holt once again excels at creating character and an evocative sense of place.” School Library Journal
“There is drama, humor, rebellion, despair--but understated for the most part, quietly moving the reader.” KLIATT
“Lyrical, touching saga.” VOYA
A love of words—books, reading and writing—is the theme that runs through Holt's series of vignettes, which illuminates four generations of a Louisiana family. Teenage Rose, an aspiring writer, kicks things off: forced to flee the Dust Bowl–ravaged Texas panhandle in 1939 with her mother and siblings, she lies about her age in order to get a job driving the library's bookmobile to help her struggling family and never looks back. Subsequently, Rose's outdoorsy, dog-loving son, Merle Henry, holds great fondness for Old Yeller. In the early 1970s, Merle Henry's daughter, Annabeth, tries to ease her adolescent growing pains with Hans Christian Andersen. And Annabeth's son, Kyle, who is tortured by the thought of reading, eventually finds a spark of inspiration in a library job and Harry Potter. Actress Reading uses a mellifluous Southern lilt, often suffused with notes of sadness, to capture the broad spectrum of emotion here. Though a recitation of the family tree at the beginning of the program feels more overwhelming than helpful, listeners will likely find satisfaction as Reading confidently brings the characters and inspiring imagery full circle. Ages 12-up. (Dec. 2006)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
In 1939, Rose is forced to quit school to help her mother. If that seems like the start to a predictable story, you'd better hold onto your bus seat! Rose passes herself off (on Momma's command, no less) as 17 years old instead of the 14 she actually is, in order to drive the library bus. Driving not being a skill she's mastered, she has to figure a stick shift out on the run. Improbable as all this may sound, Holt manages to pull it off in a wide-ranging sequence of vignettes charting the fortunes of a single family in a lovingly sketched Louisiana bayou setting. Bibliophiles will delight in the fact that books, reading, and writing constitute the links between these people and their place, their neighbors, and their lives. The stories are of Rose (1939-40); her son Merle Henry (1957-58); Merle Henry's daughter, Annabeth (1973); and Annabeth's son, Kyle (2004), ending with Rose again in 2004. In both first and third person, Rose's narratives serve as carefully crafted book ends. If there is an authorial hand in evidence in the fortuitous publication of Rose's book, it can be argued that in fiction for young readers, embracing wish-fulfillment is a time-honored tradition. Some of the characters captivate more than others, and without a doubt, Rose is the tensile strength that holds the book together. Each generation is placed with telling touches within the socio-historical context of its time. Merle Henry and his grandson Kyle are both delightfully rendered. One lovely aspect of the vignette structure is that it allows secondary characters to be shadowed in one chapter, then grow into full glow in another. Among them, Aunt Pie and her idiosyncrasies shine.
VOYA - Lisa A. Hazlett
Five generations of one family are traced and connected throughout this novel by their love of reading, beginning in 1939 when Rose's father abandons their Texas home. Rose's mother moves her children to the Louisiana birthplace that she had abandoned, re-encountering her own estranged father, and teenaged Rose begins driving the community bookmobile. Merle Henry, Rose's son, appears in 1957, but prefers hunting and trapping to books until Old Yeller begins his reading appreciation. Annabeth, Merle Henry's daughter, follows in 1973, with reading being her refuge from adolescence until socially relevant novels boost her confidence. Kyle, Annabeth's son, despises reading and is loath to find 2004 summer employment. He begins performing skits at the public library, and they, along with Harry Potter novels, spark his reading interest and responsibility. Rose is now seventy-nine and has authored a novel about her youth, initiating Annabeth's surprise book tour in libraries along Rose's former bookmobile route. Rose eagerly accepts, invigorated by realizing that upcoming decisions are hers alone. Chapters connect seamlessly but can be read individually. Stopping reading is difficult, as curiosity regarding subsequent generations and the fates of all characters is strong. Family connections are strengthened by Rose's presence in every chapter with additional ties from comparisons, such as Merle Henry's wanderlust likened to Rose's father. It is disappointing never to learn more of Rose's father and only little of her mother, and although the discord between Rose's mother and grandfather presumably involves her parentage, it also is unexplained. Still these omissions detract little from thislyrical, touching saga.
Holt is an acclaimed writer, and her novels My Louisiana Sky, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, and Keeper of the Night are probably known to most librarians working with YAs. This is a departure in format, telling the story of four generations in one Louisiana family by dividing the whole into parts. The story begins with the voice of Rose, 14 years old in 1939. She really doesn't have a choice when her mother asks her to leave school to get a job helping to support the family--Rose drives the bookmobile through the bayou communities, lying about her age so she can get her license. She can't continue school, but she does love books, and she loves to write. At the end of Part of Me, it's 2004 and Rose, almost 80 years old, goes on the circuit again through the bayou communities, this time on her own book tour. In between these two "book-ends" about Rose are stories of the generations of her family who share her life and love of books: her son Merle Henry in l957; Merle's daughter Annabeth in l973; Annabeth's son Kyle in 2004. Each segment is immediate, with verbal sketches that reveal the themes in the family's life, references to the wider world, to books that are loved; the sections tell of adolescents struggling to find their own voices. There is drama, humor, rebellion, despair--but understated for the most part, quietly moving the reader. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Henry Holt, 208p., $16.95.. Ages 12 to 18.
School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-This lyrical novel is actually a collection of vignettes that spans five generations of a family living in the Louisiana bayous. Beginning with Rose as a young girl who, in 1939, must drop out of school in order to help her mother put food on the table, the stories follow pivotal moments-an injured dog, learning to dance, a summer job-in the lives of her descendants. What connects the chapters is the presence of books, whether on a bookmobile or on a library shelf, or even the writing of one's own story. Holt once again excels at creating character and an evocative sense of place.-Melissa Moore, Union University Library, Jackson, TN Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In 1939, Rose McGee's Papa leaves, and Momma moves the family from Amarillo, Texas to the Louisiana bayou where she grew up. When they arrive, Momma forces Rose to lie about her age to get a job driving the bookmobile. Rose would rather go to school, but the family needs the money. Seventeen years later, Rose's son Merle Henry prefers trapping, but sees the use in some books. In the '70s, his daughter Annabeth grows from reading fairytales to classics, and in 2004 her son Kyle takes a job at the library and discovers that he doesn't hate reading. As lovely as it may be, Holt's collection of stories connected by ties familial and literary doesn't have the time to flesh out most of its characters. Rose, who begins by telling her story, never comes back to life even as her dream of writing a book of her own comes to fruition in the final pages. None of the other characters are allowed to tell their own stories, and they come away feeling like place-holders on the family tree. Still, for its sense of family history, this is worth a spot in large collections, especially, of course, in Louisiana. (Fiction. 10-14)
Read an Excerpt
Time drags when you're waiting for an alligator to wake up and move. I thought of a song I taught Pie to sing when she jumped rope. And out there in the middle of nowhere, I started to sing, "Mumps, said the doctor. Measles, said the nurse. Vote, said the lady with the alligator purse!"
Marlene stared at me all bug-eyed. I guess I couldn't blame her. She'd never seen me act silly. By the second time around, though, she was singing with me. We sang louder and louder and darn if that old alligator finally opened his eyes. When he did, we screamed and clung to each other, then burst out laughing. The alligator started slowly moving across the road, dragging his long tail behind him. When he finally had cleared enough road that I could get around him, I held my breath and took off with a chug-chug and pressed down on the accelerator. My heart beat so hard I heard it pounding in my ears. When we'd gone a safe distance, we exhaled together and laughed again.