Monday, 24 January 2011

Book Review: Amalee

Maybe I'm just not creative, but I could not figure out how to combine Amalee with Review and make it funny. You'll forgive me eventually.

Dar Williams wrote a kids book! EEE! Amalee, a novel about Amalee, her family, her friends, and her family friends. There's also a sequel! (Don't expect a review anytime soon - the only place I have seen her books in physical form is at her concerts. And those are hard to come by sometimes. I'll give Amalee a rating of: Interesting. It is a far cry from the best book I've ever read, but even further from bad. Just...unusual. Which is good I suppose - very fresh!

What makes it unusual? Several things: the most two notable (ok, so the first one isn't really notable, but it caught my attention as things that maybe you see in teen books as an issue, but never really in kids books!) being that they're vegetarians. No big deal. It's just mentioned a few times in passing that John makes vegetarian meat loaf, and we move on. I think that's fantastic! (My not-so-inner-hippie says to say hello!) It's just a tiny aspect of their lives - insignificant really. But it's just not something you see in these kinds of books! Like I said, Fresh!

Secondly, the book really focuses on the idea that it takes a community to raise a child - that people who grow up outside of a mum, a dad, two siblings and a dog can be ok too! Sure, there are plenty of kids books out there with single parents, grandparents parenting, etc. The book opens on a typical Friday night: 11 year old Amalee and her dad (her mom left and then died while Amalee was an infant) heading out to pick up four of her dad's friends for a movie and pizza!

There is Phyllis, her dad's lifelong friend and worked at Amalee's school in the office. Carolyn is a dissatisfied artist. Joyce is a psychologist who cries at everything. And John works at a restaurant while dreaming of opening his own. I really loved the distinctness of each of the characters (well, it was a bit difficult in the beginning to remember who was who.) - and also that EVERYONE grows and changes during the course of the story - not just Amalee! Grown ups can learn lessons too!

I also liked that Amalee's interactions with the kids at school was not all sunshine and roses as well. She is in middle school - something often remembered with a certain degree of horror. She has two 'friends' Ellen and Hally - who are mean girls. While Amalee is not necessarily a mean girl herself, she comes to terms with herself as one because she does not speak out against Hally and Ellens' awful remarks about and to others. There is also Lenore - Amalee's old friend who also wasn't really a friend. Lenore was the kind of bossy friend that dictated when and where and how you would be friends with her, ultimately because she's afraid that you won't like her if she doesn't make you. I really wanted to like the school scenes, but there was an awful lot of 'telling' instead of 'showing'. I would have liked to see more direct interaction with kids at school and a little less stream of consciousness from Amalee. The good bit about the stream of consciousness is that you really get to see the struggle of a girl who knows what is happening is wrong, but is too afraid to do anything about it because she's terrified to be on the other end of the food chain.

So, plot- Amalee's dad falls ill. Really ill. He goes to the hospital for a few days, and when he comes home he is too weak to get out of bed (let alone take care of an eleven year old girl.) In swoop the friends that Amalee has categorized and lives with, but does not really know and appreciate. They take shifts taking care of David (her dad), and getting her to school and making sure there is food in the house (enter John - which was my favorite chapter and included my favorite line: "'This is called quiche,' he explained. "You'll like it when you're fourteen.'") However, no one really knows how to treat Amalee - do they let her in on everything? She seems fine, do they just not fiddle with things? How is school? She doesn't want to talk, should they make her? Does she need to talk? How do they talk to her? How do you solve a problem like Maria? Anyway, things are getting a little better and a little worse all over the place when Lenore says something in the hallway that sends Amalee over the edge, and she pushes Lenore (accidentally) down a flight of stairs.

You'll have to read the book to find out how everyone finally gets a very happy ending. ^_^


Cricket said...

Sounds cute! Maybe I should start using my Philly library card!

Whyte Fairy said...

Do it! Do it! ^_^