In the High Peaks

Friday, May 14, 2010

Those Blasts from the Distant Past

I have never met a devout reader who didn't love to talk about the books he or she most cherished as a child.

Have you ever had the fun of rereading and rethinking the specific reasons why you adored the books you did? I'm talking about the deep emotional reasons. It can be a startling process, but in a good way.

Case in point: When my hands took Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle off the school library's bookshelf way back when, I hustled it home,flopped down on my bed, and did not stop reading until my mother called me to dinner 3 hours later. I was an outdoorsy girl, and my unusual behavior puzzled me. I read it repeatedly before I finally returned it.

At the time I knew what I loved about it, but I didn't know why, and that bothered me. Years later, as a young sixth-grade teacher, I read it again. Only then did I understand my obsession for this book. The warm scenes of family life, and the difficulties surmounted by both parents' loving care, was something I lacked and yearned for. I especially loved the chapter in which Vicki has a fight with her sick brother. In a rage, she takes off on her bike in the dark and has a bad accident that lands her in the hospital. She's lovingly cared for afterwards, and with the help of her parents, she realizes where she went wrong that day.

It's fascinating to realize that L'Engle didn't write the book from her own family experience. She acknowledges that she was a very lonely, only child, and that she was shuttled from boarding school to boarding school. And from that dry and dusty wellspring burst the Austin family.

And here's another: Did you ever read North to Freedom by Anne Holm, the Danish writer? I am David, and later, David, were the book's UK titles.

I didn't reread this compulsive favorite until I was in my mid-30s. Wow! The book resonated with me almost as strongly as it had when I read it in junior high.

At the beginning of the novel, David is confined to a post-World War II camp in Eastern Europe. (Many reviewers refer to the camp as a concentration camp, but this is an anachronistic use of the term, and was more likely a detention camp.) He follows the advice of an adult inmate and escapes. His destination is freedom in Denmark. Yet as his troubled journey begins, it's his search for a home, security, trust, and love that are paramount. From time to time, he allows himself to stay with a family, but the peace lasts briefly because he fears that he will be rounded up and confined again in a loveless environment. **I highly recommend this title for adults.

And here's an unforgettable read from age 14 that I haven't reread. But I must. When Jays Fly to Barbmo by Margaret Balderson. I didn't realize until today that Balderson is an Australian writer, which is striking because she wrote so convincingly about northernmost Norway. As I discovered, Balderson spent two years living and traveling throughout Norway, so no wonder she knows the Norwegian landscape. Amidst the background of World War II, Ingeborg, who is half-Sami, goes on a personal journey to search for her identity. It's a title that's hard to find these days. But since it was so meaningful to me, I'll track it down somewhere online and add it to my collection.

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