Fuse #8

Monday, May 21, 2007

Review of the Day: Eggs

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli. Little Brown & Company. $15.99.

You read enough of an author and you begin to get ideas about them. And if that author in question cuts a wide swath about them, the urge to stereotype them is strong. Jerry Spinelli cuts such a swath, yet all I’d read of him until now was a little “Maniac Magee” here and a touch of “Stargirl” there. Books that are nice enough in their own way but that don’t really make my pulse pound any faster. There is a blessing one should bestow upon all authors: May your reviewers have low expectations. Cause honestly, I got a kick out of “Eggs”. I mean, it’s basically “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” for kids. Edward Albee would love this book, I’m sure. And while some people may see that as a deficiency, I’m all for it. You can find plenty of books where a boy and a girl meet and become bestest buddy buddies and skip happily off into a relationship that hasn’t so much as a thimbleful of oomph or excitement to it. Far rarer is the title where the words leap off the page and begin to gnaw on the reader's anklebone. There’s a true streak of anger at the core of “Eggs” which will make it equal parts adored and reviled by its potential readership. Want a book that sparks discussion and red hot emotions? Spinelli delivers.

David found the dead body hidden under a pile of leaves in the woods during an Easter egg hunt. The girl was about thirteen and beautiful, and he told her all his secrets, knowing she’d never tell. So imagine his shock and horror when a couple months later that same girl is sitting in the local storytime, asleep. She is not dead. She is Primrose and once it is made clear that she was never dead in the first place (the gal has a seriously twisted sense of humor) she and David are inseparable. They’ve their own family problems, of course. David’s mom is dead, his father is always away, and he loathes his kindly grandmother for everything she isn’t. Primrose, on the other hand, lives in an abandoned van outside her house. Her mother is an embarrassment to her, believing herself to be a fortune teller who (at this moment in time) will read feet like some people read palms. But with two such violent personalities, it’s only a matter of time before David and Primrose are on the outs. They’ll either fix what’s broken in the other, or be worse off because of their friendship in the end.

First off, I can’t think of better booktalk material. Seriously. Boy sees dead girl in a storyhour? Did someone just spill a whole cup of awesome all over this book? Some books grab you by the throat from page one and don’t let go until you’ve read them cover to cover. This is such a book. It’s not, however, an easy read. You’re constantly on your guard as you go through it. With two such unpredictable characters, Primrose and David are just as likely to slap you as kiss you. Their little pre-adolescent nerves are all ah-jangled and it’s this herky jerky clash of personalities that keeps the book consistently interesting.

The title is also very good at showing the true unattractiveness of desperation. David’s grandmother would do anything for her grandson. If only he’d just throw her a bone. Some kind of thoughtful gesture and all would be well. But the lines are drawn very clearly here. He has decided to hate her because she’s not his mother and she, for her part, doesn’t know how to break through to him. It’s the rare children’s novel, actually, where the main character says that he out-and-out HATES the innocent family member taking care of him. Spinelli sets it up so that you dislike David for what he’s doing to his grandma and, at the same time, you understand where he’s coming from. The woman is a suffocating presence. Her neediness just serves to repel the people she’s trying to befriend. And that you don’t end up detesting David from start to finish is a kind of accomplishment of writing in and of itself.

I also thought that the sheer absurdity of the narrative has a way of sucking you in. Spinelli reveals his characters in fits and starts. Primrose is the kind of person who’d wave at an imaginary car, then not like the imaginary driver’s response and start yelling and spitting. David’s the kind of kid who can weigh down the carrot that his grandmother gives him to eat every day with a kind of heady symbolism, entirely of his own.

There are unanswered questions by the story’s end, I’m afraid. The one that comes to my mind in particular concerns Primrose. The van outside her house where she stays is egged on a regular basis. We never get any specifics about this except when Primrose mentions that the kids who did it “followed” her and that they get their older siblings to drive them over to her van. It’s a mighty odd element to leave unexplained. Otherwise the ending is a strong one. It doesn’t cheat. You don’t get flowers and sunshine and a sudden smattering of scales falling from various characters’ eyes just in time to wrap up the narrative. None of that. It’s a good ending. A strong ending. An earned ending.

The best section in this book comes from the character of Refrigerator John. Night after night the kids take refuge in his home. Looking at them he sums up their relationship nicely: “What brought them together? Sometimes they acting their own ages, sometimes they switched. Sometimes both seemed to be nine, other times thirteen. Both were touchy, ready to squawk over nothing. They constantly crabbed at each other – yet at the same time he might be braiding her hair, or she might be making him lunch. Half the time they left his place snarling, yet the next day there they were, together, knocking on his door.” Good children’s books with complex characters and motives are sometimes a little difficult to locate. “Eggs” at times feels like a bookclub’s dream. You could parse many an action taken and word said in this story without ever quite running out of topics for discussion. A book that is worth reading, at the very least.

On shelves now.

Notes on the Cover: Mm. The old no-title-is-good-title route. Clever work, Spinelli’s an old hand at this technique, what with Stargirl and all. Then again, Stargirl was a completely different publisher than this one. Looks like ye olde Hachette Book Group is looking to make their own titleless mark. I’m a fan of the photo. Very appealing but I do wonder if any kid who is not yet already a Jerry Spinelli fan will feel inclined to pick it up.

Other Reviews By: A Year in Reading, Our Lady of Syntax, Scholarlybrio, Pam's Postings, and a host of others that aren't showing up on Google's blogsearch.

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At 3:51 PM , Blogger gail said...

RE: Notes on the Cover.
Man oh man, I can't believe it! I illustrate, I design, I work with type. I love type! How could I have missed this? I had to go back and look at the ARC I got in January and make sure they hadn't changed the cover. And there it was plain as can be. No title! What a great cover design. I had "read" the word "eggs" every time I looked at this, and the word was never there.


At 5:22 PM , Blogger Lindsey said...

A whole cup of awesome, eh? Thanks for the laugh; that really made my day.

At 10:50 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

My book club is doing this pretty soon and I was recently thinking about the absent egging kids, actually. I think I like how they're never visible. It's not your typical "conquer the bully you can see" problem. There's way too much crap going crazy inside Primrose for her to worry about a more physical manifestation of problems. Probably reading WAY too much into it, but thanks for the discussion because I've been thinking about that, too. And thanks for the link. I think my heart skipped a beat. ha.


At 2:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Zee - that phrase is utterly divine. And thanks for the review - I wasn't sure what to expect with this one.


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