Fuse #8

Monday, October 02, 2006

Review of the Day: I'll Sing You One-O

Some songs lodge in your brain more effectively than others. I can hear the National Anthem at every ballgame I attend, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be humming it on my way home. Songs I knew when I was a child, however, are immensely difficult to remove from one’s mental rotation. I grew up loving the song “I’ll Sing You One-O”, and that love is now a curse. Now every time I pick up Nan Gregory’s gripping story, I end up singing its title for hours on end. Talk about an effective marketing strategy! Now, I liked this book, yes indeed. No one is ever going to contest that this wasn’t a smart novel. However, I had a very hard time getting through it due to how involved I felt in the heroine's story. It’s an odd criticism, but “I’ll Sing You One-O” is anything but an ordinary book. Love it or hate it, it packs a wallop.

Gemma is now officially the world’s most miserable child. I mean, how would you feel if some strangers swooped down and took you away from everyone and everything you ever loved? Since the age of four Gemma has lived on a foster care farm and she’s grown incredibly close to the people and kids there. Now her aunt, uncle, and twin brother have tracked her down and they’re taking her home with them. Gemma, needless to say, is desperately unhappy with this situation. She wants to save the foster farm from being sold and return to it, but the only thing she can really think to do is to call upon an angel to intervene. But how do you attract the attention of an angel? You do whatever you can. Problem is, Garnet has to deal with her own interior demons before she’s ready to accept the world in which she finds herself.

I enjoyed the subtlety with which Ms. Gregory was able to convey the social differences between the people Gemma grew up with and the family that takes her in. Though it’s not said straight out until the end, the foster care farm that Gemma loves so much is run by hippie-like free-spirits. The Burdettes, in contrast, are of the upper middle-class set and think right from the start that they are “rescuing” Gemma from an untenable situation. Mrs. Burdette is the kind of woman who, when she sees her niece touch the polished dining room table in wonder, scrubs away the fingerprint with her sleeve. And right from that moment onward you know exactly the situation Gemma has fallen into, and you don’t envy her one bit. The language also flows so easily. Garnet, Gemma’s twin brother, is described as having, “Hansel-thin fingers”. Gregory slips in little dabs of description here and there, putting together a story that a person really wants to hear.

Yet at what point does an author emotional tug on the reader’s heart become too effective? You see, I reached page 152 of this book and suddenly I didn’t want to read another word. This was a huge problem for me. I literally did not want to pick up that book again and watch Gemma’s heart get ripped out of her chest. Of course my worry was all for naught and Nan Gregory had the situation well in hand. What I want to convey, though, is that Ms. Gregory evokes intense emotions in the reader’s heart and mind and that can sometimes be painful. Maybe too painful. Fortunately there are child readers out there with thicker skin than me. For them, this book will be just the emotional roller coaster they need.

Of course it was great. But, “I’ll Sing You One-O”, is a very particular type of realistic fiction. Kids who enjoy reading a book where the heroine is basically miserable for most of it will eat this puppy up. Kids who prefer happy happy joy joy books will probably wish to look elsewhere. This book delivers a read that demands that a person find out the end. I never peek at the back of a book, but in this case I made an exception. A story not soon forgot.

Notes On the Cover: My husband gives this book a glance and wants to know if it’s a noir. Sadly, I tell him no. I thought that overall the layout on this puppy was good. The gritty street scene harkened back to some of the images in the book. But let’s look at the choice of girl to play Gemma. Now, I see lots of kids come through my library every day. Some have a little more maturity than others. Girls, by and large, grow up faster than their male counterparts. But the girl on the cover doesn’t look like a mature twelve-year-old. She looks like an average 23-year-old. At least they gave her blond hair, but how hard would it have been to get someone with a little babyfat on their face? On the other other hand, tweens love images of mature people their own age. How else to describe the popularity of television shows starring thirty-something “teenagers”? You’re off the hook this time, Clarion. You get extra points for actually showing a kid’s face. Lots of books can’t say as much.

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