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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Crossing Stones, written by Helen Frost. Farrar, Douglas & McIntyre, 2009. $21.00 ages 12 and up

"You may need to learn to bite your tongue. Is that what women - "ladies" - are supposed to do? Bite off little pieces of themselves, our very thougths? Chew on them until they don't seem so worthwhile - and then what? Swallow them? Or spit them out and crush them underfoot, until we can be absolutely sure no one will know they ever crossed our minds!"

Oh my word! There is so much to tell you about this fine book. Muriel is 17 and has always been determined, lively, and full of questions about the workings of the world and society. Her brother Ollie is younger, helping on the farm and feeling guilty that his best friend has signed up to fight in WWI. Emma is Muriel's best friend and nearest neighbor and sweet on Ollie. Frank is Emma's older brother and has enlisted and been shipped to France. The three voices are remarkable in the telling...Muriel, Emma and Ollie...each with different life goals and wishes for the future.

The families are close, and live across the creek from each other. The 'crossing stones' provide a path from house to house across that creek, and so much more. Muriel is passionate, strong-willed and quite sure she will not marry, following in her Aunt Vera's footsteps. Emma wants to stay on the farm and be a farm wife like her mother. Ollie is determined not to be left behind, lies about his age and is also shipped off to fight in France.

The time frame is nine months in 1917 and 1918. The events are heartbreaking, life-altering and life-affirming for each of the tellers. Through their eyes we see the horrors of war, of families torn apart, of the casualties that are the result of the war on foreign soil. Helen Frost handles countless issues with a sure hand, and we are never overwhelmed by them. We share the heartbreak, the suffering, the determination felt by characters we come to know and love.

In an author's note, Helen Frost explains the formal structure she has chosen for each voice, that moves us from stone to stone as the story plays out. It is, indeed, 'painting with words'. Another book for my 'save to savor' shelf and I will surely read it again. I may lend it to my friends, but I will keep track of where it is at all times. Bravo!

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