Sunday, November 11, 2012

Trouble review

by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books
April 2008

First line: Henry Smith's father told him that if you build your house far away enough from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you.

 The story contained a lot of very lyrical, writerly language. Beautiful descriptions of the sea, of grief, of the dog, of the mountain (Katahdin) of so many things.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. The protagonist, Henry, from an upper crust New England family, is struggling to come to terms with things after his life falls apart. Franklin, his athletic older brother that he's idolized, is in a horrendous car accident when Cambodian Chay Chouan hits him with his truck. At first, Franklin is in a coma and has lost his arm, but eventually he succumbs to his injuries and passes away. Henry rescues a black dog and together, he and the dog work on healing themselves. As the small town of Blythebury-by-the-Sea erupts in racial tension over the incident, Henry decides to leave town. He plans to hike the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, something his brother always wanted to do, accompanied by his private school classmate, Sanborn. They hitchhike and are picked up by - of all people - Chay, who is also headed out of town. Henry struggles with his grief and anger, but as he gradually realizes that Chay has been in love with his sister Louisa, he manages to forgive Chay for the accident. After a cathartic run-in with some racist Vietnam vets, a hike up Katahdin, the steady devotion of Black Dog and a reunion with his concerned parents, Henry is finally able to achieve some peace.

In many ways, because of the use of allegory, foreshadowing and other literary devices, as well as the heavily all-male perspective, this story reminded me very much of of many of the classics studied in high school such as A Separate Piece, The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I had the feeling that this would be a "boy and dog" book the moment Black Dog came on the scene, but that didn't seem to completely be the case. The other characters, especially Sanborn, end up surprising us with a lot to contribute as well. Schmidt "shines a light" on any potential problems by having the characters bring everything right out in the open. The kids at school tease Henry for giving his dog the most ridiculously obvious name, "Black Dog" and he defends it. Within a few minutes, the name which sounded so silly seems the most natural and perfect name ever. All the plot points wind up tightly, but Schmidt writes skillfully enough to prevent it from seeming too unbelievable. It's a clockwork kind of book. Everything is neccessary. Black Dog turns out to be (of course) Chay's dog, who is now Henry's dog and an important element in healing the grief that troubles them both.

Compare to:
A Separate Piece - John Knowles
Frenchtown Summer - Robert Cormier
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

I borrowed this book from the library.

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