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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chasing Orion, written by Kathryn Lasky. Random House, 2010. $23.00 ages 12 and up

"It was the morning after THE
DATE. I was in my room
working on the diorama. The
first level was almost complete.
This was the undersea part, and
if I do say so myself, it was
beautiful. I had ripped out the
old green-and-blue clay and put
in this clear gel stuff that came in
two colors, aquamarine and

It's unusual that I have read two books about children afflicted by polio in the last few months. Both books had a profound effect on me, for very different reasons. In this one we meet Georgie Mason, an 11 year old living in Indiana in the summer of 1952. Georgie has an odd fascination with polio because the scare that accompanies the outbreak has resulted in her 'boring' public places in the summer when the spread of the virus is uppermost in many people's minds. Georgie has done her reading and watches the paper daily for statistic updates. When Georgie realizes their new neighbors have a daughter who lives in an iron lung, she is fascinated.

Phyllis is beautiful, and lonely. She encourages Georgie to visit often. Georgie is clearly intrigued by the world that surrounds Phyllis...a wheezing beast that keeps her breathing, round the clock care and new contraptions designed by her father to make her life easier and more 'normal'. Phyllis is very interested in the 'small worlds' that are Georgie's hobby and she encourages her to bring them over. Georgie is enamored of the glamorous girl and encourages her older brother Emmett to visit, too. Emmett is only interested in telescopes and basketball. His sister would love for that to change. Soon Emmett is spending a lot of time with Phyllis and they are leaving his little sister out.

It isn't long before Georgie becomes uncomfortable with Phyllis' controlling ways and her abrupt, rude treatment of her parents and caregivers. As Phyllis and Emmett spend more and more time together, Georgie begins to notice some unnerving behavior. She questions whether it is just jealousy rearing its ugly head, or something more sinister. Why does Phyllis want Emmett? What are her motives?

Kathryn Lasky handles the topic with great care; her story leaves its readers with more questions than answers, and a better understanding of the ravages of polio for those who lived with it. She also honestly depicts the many uncertainties of adolescence. While Georgie basks in the attention paid to her by the beautiful, older Phyllis, she becomes aware of the many tough questions concerning life, love and happiness as well as dealing with unlikely friendships, parents and the 'it' girls at her school.

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