Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

About 40 pages into The Center of Everything, by Linda Urban, I thought, is she doing what I think she's doing?  Is she seriously writing a children's novel in which all of the action takes place over 10 minutes?  The answer is almost yes.

Toward the end of the novel, time moves a little faster, but most of this story happens in the few minutes in between when the Bunning Day parade starts and when the schoolhouse float at the end of the parade stops in front of Ruby Pepperdine so she can deliver her Bunning Day speech.

So basically, this is the Mrs. Dalloway of children's books.  I never thought I'd get to say that!  The story in the present is broken up by flashbacks to Ruby's past which explain why it is so important that Ruby deliver her speech in just the right way.

There are also short chapters where we get to see the parade from other people's perspectives: a bank manager who is dressed as Captain Bunning, a local artist who organized the parade, Ruby's little cousin who really has to pee.  These short chapters are deliciously funny, which is nice, because although Ruby is a girl I like and her town is a place I would love to visit, Ruby's mood is sad and her sadness creeps into your heart when you read about it.

Side note: I said that I would like to visit this town, but the truth is, I am sort of convinced that Bunning is based on the town where I grew up.  Admittedly, my town was not founded by a donut-inventing sea captain, but it is in Southern New Hampshire and it does have an annual Old Homeday's parade, which, like the Bunning Day parade, includes karate demonstrations, school bands, Shriners in small cars, and local politicians.  But I suppose lots of towns have parades like this.

I don't want to give too much away, because part of what kept me reading this book were all the questions I had at the beginning: Why are Lucy's friends mad at her?  Why is Gigi not in the parade?  What did Lucy wish for when her quarter flew through the donut on the Captain Bunning Day statue?  But I will say that the book contains the following: stargazing, karate, donuts, community theater, convertibles, and clandestine meetings at the public library.  Are you sold or what? 

I also have to note that although Lucy's town is in Southern New Hampshire, the author has kept up with the times and made sure that there is a racially diverse cast of characters (applause!).

So this is definitely a book for children who like stories of small towns full of quirky people.  (Do children really love these kind of books, or do adults just really love writing them for children?  There seem to be a lot.)  But it's also a book for children who like the slightly weird, the books that walk the line between reality and fantasy a la Zilpha Keatley Snyder, E. L. Konigsburg, Ellen Potter, and Rebecca Stead.

If I have one critique, it's that the symbols don't always support the theme.  There are donuts, color wheels, and stars, and they all have something to do with stretching time and listening and things being the way they're supposed to be.  But the themes and symbols don't all intersect like the spokes on a wheel, if you know what I mean.  If you don't know what I mean, then you know how I feel about the symbolism in the book.

Still, I am completely impressed with the structure of the novel, which seems quite daring to me.  In addition to the 10 minute timeline and the many perspectives, the author uses the second person to put us inside Ruby's head.  And here's the most important thing: it all works.  It seems natural.  When you stand back and consider what the author has done, it's remarkable, but when you're in the story, you barely have the chance to notice because you're too interested in everything that's going on.

No comments:

Post a Comment