Friday, September 29, 2006

A two book day

Knowing that I would finish reading, Things Hoped For, by Andrew Clements, I also took Dear Max, by Sally Grindley, to lunch this afternoon. Though part way through the Clements title, I started with Dear Max figuring I could read through the book pretty quickly. I was right. This does not mean the book is without substance, far from it, but the age level (3rd or 4th grade), larger print, and clever pencil drawings sprinkled throughout the book facilitated a quick read.

Dear Max is a compilation of letters written between a young boy, Max, and his favorite author, D.J. Lucas. We learn Max is small for his age, has recently lost his father, and possesses a vivid imagination. Nine-year-old Max is wonderful and his life complicated with everyday issues at school including a bully, a best friend, and his "odd" teacher. D.J. becomes friend, mentor, and confidant to Max during a rough year at school. Through their letters, we learn about both Max and D.J. as they share happenings in their daily lives. As the pen pal relationship progresses between the two, Grindley deftly weaves writing tips for budding authors into D.J.'s correspondences and we realize Max's letters contain more than a young boy's yearning to write. Dear Max ends with a clever twist leaving readers to wonder how much of the book is part of, well, the book.

Things Hoped For begins as a daily narrative from Gwen, a talented violinist who has moved to New York City to live with her grandfather and study music, her passion. Their relationship is both simple and complex:

"Grandpa and I don't talk much, but over the past year and a half we've gotten used to each other. he has his routines, and I have mine. I know he likes having me around. he doesn't say things out loud, but he's been so kind, mostly little things, but some big ones too." - Clements, Things Hoped For, P. 13-14

It is obvious they have a deep affection and respect for each other, a fact aptly illustrated when Grandpa disappears one afternoon leaving only a cryptic phone message with instructions for Gwen to carry on like nothing is wrong. Though afraid, Gwen chooses to honor her Grandpa's wishes and proceed with her practice and lessons.

During the next few days Gwen meets Robert, a trumpet player with like ambitions, and they strike up a friendship. What is subsequently revealed about Robert is a portion of the book I found somewhat unnecessary. Robert, it seems, was at one time rendered invisible and now is able to see other shadows who suffer the same malady. Gwen trusts his story, aptly noting that it does not matter if she believes it has happened, Robert believes it is the truth regardless of her feelings, and the story continues. The writing is clean and concise when discussing Gwen's music obsession; she is focused, but not selfishly obsessed. We learn what precipitated Grandpa's choice, and the feelings evoked when Uncle Hank, Gwen's Dad, Gwen, and Robert all must deal with when truths are revealed.

All of this could have been accomplished without the invisible sub-plot for Robert and another intruder who wants to learn how Robert became visible again. All in all, Things will undoubtedly strike a chord with teenagers who have yearned to have the opportunity to fulfill a dream.

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