Friday, May 16, 2008

Jim the Boy (copy)

Quiet, episodic, and verging on nostalgic is how I explain Jim the Boy by Tony Earley. My gut tells me the story is similar to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, but then again, not really. Earley’s book moves forward in the telling, but Wilder’s Laura is looking back in narration.

Since Jim the Boy is marketed to young adult readers, I thought it similar to Sounder by William H. Armstrong. Sounder is the simple story of a sharecropper’s son who longs for an education instead of the fields. The book is filled with symbols and situations only an adult with experience can appreciate. Not so much the symbols, but many young adults will misinterpret the slow, clean prose of Earley’s work as boring. In my opinion both books are targeting the wrong audience.

Ten-year-old Jim is growing up in Depression Era, small town Aliceville, NC. He lives on a farm with his widowed mother and three of her brothers. The Uncles, Zeno, Coran, and Al, combine efforts to provide Jim with a suitable father figure. His mother, battling depression, still manages to put on a brave face when Jim is around. All-in-all, readers will find they are a happy lot.

As in most ten-year-old boys, prior to the distractions of televisions and Game Boys, hometown is the epicenter of all things. One explores the fields, barns, buildings, and local faces with fascinating curiosity. When one attends the big brick school on the hill for the first time, it is progress. When electricity comes into town, it is life-changing. When the Express hits a cow while Ty Cobb may or may not be lounging on the train, it is earth shattering. The littlest of events become episodes catapulting one closer and closer to adulthood.

Jim the Boy begins with a small quote from E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, “I love it here in the barn,” said Wilbur. “I love everything about this place.” Jim could easily say this about Aliceville. It is his barn which he loves deeply, and as he progresses through his ten years, each month spreads the love even farther by visiting the ocean and his grandfather on the mountain.

Jim is coming-of-age within his heaven on earth, and we the readers are allowed to bounce around on his fluffy clouds. Earley creates this fictional sense of place where things are quiet, episodic, and verging on nostalgic.

Thank you, Tony Earley, for this small, simply satisfying read.