Friday, December 16, 2011

Another one from my favorite YA novelist

I made a promise to myself to read all the books written by Gary D. Schmidt. His two latest releases, The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, remind you why you read books in the first place -- to enjoyably lose yourself in a story that is wonderfully written. Like these two novels, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy doesn't disappoint.

Scmidt transports us to an island in Maine in the early years of the 20th century. Turner Buckminster, together with his father (who is moving to the small island community to be the minister) and silent-but-strong-willed mother, arrives in Phippsburg, Maine and discover that not everyone in this place is happy to have him.

Turner has several things going against him. Of course, being the minister's son has its obvious disadvantages. He finds out that the boys on the island community play baseball differently from the usual. And, he becomes friends with a black girl named Lizzie Bright. Lizzie comes from Malaga Island, an island just off the coast of Phippsburg and populated by former slaves. He soon knows that the community of leaders of Phippsburg want to kick out this African-American settlement to convert Malaga Island into a tourist spot.

Schmidt, instead of writing a novel about a hero conquering seemingly insurmountable odds, has written a book that feels very much grounded. Nevertheless, Turner does do everything he can to rescue Lizzie's family and friends in Malaga Island. Turner fails though, but what he accomplishes after this sad fact is noteworthy.

What is it about Schmidt's novels that make me want to shed tears, buckets and buckets of them. If the reader shed tears reading Schmidt's last two novels, it's very different altogether in Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Turner makes a very unfortunate discovery concerning Lizzie that will leave the reader in shock at first and then possibly weeping because of it.

And there's no sugarcoating in this novel. Schmidt presents bigotry in all its ugliness, always reminding people that this is how some people think and feel about African-Americans in the early 1900s. It's a very unsettling picture, especially when he writes about how people foolishly act on their prejudices.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy actually has historical truth in it. There really was an island in Maine cleared off its African-American residents during the early 1900s. And, there really was a black girl who was transferred to a mental institution during this time. The girl's name was left out in the records; Schmidt, however, gave her a name in his beautiful novel.

Read this book if:
  1. You love historical YA fiction.
  2. You've experienced moving to a new home when you were a kid.
  3. Like me, you'll read anything written by Gary D. Schmidt.