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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bluefish, written by Pat Schmatz. Candlewick, Random House. 2011. $18.00 ages 12 and up

"Just past the drive, trees closed in around them. Travis put his feet on his favorite dirt path, and the smells and sounds wrapped around him. Treetops murmured a soft and comforting conversation overhead. A red-winged blackbird tweedled the local gossip. Travis's skin stretched wide open, pulling it all in. He pointed at a pileated woodpecker that swept across the path in front of them."

Some nights I don't mind 'interrupted sleep patterns' at all. When I was working, they drove me crazy. Now, when I wake up in the night, I just turn on the night light, slide my indestructible (in case of falling hardcovers smacking me in the face) reading glasses on my nose and hunker down to read the next chapter or two in one of my current books. That's what happened last night, except I couldn't stop at a couple of chapters. I just kept on with getting to know and love the incredibly likable and exceptionally sensitive characters in Bluefish.

Travis' heart is sore with missing his dog Rosco. He misses him more than he misses his parents; that is because they died when he was three and he has little memory of them. Since their deaths Travis has been living with his 'less than capable at raising children' grandfather. Grandpa has some problems of his own, and he and an eighth grader find little to agree on when it comes to living together.

Velveeta's heart is sore with missing Calvin, the elderly man who lived next door. He was her confidante and refuge when things were not going well at home. His heart attack and sudden death has left a large hole in Velveeta's heart and an aching that won't go away.

Bradley's heart is sore from the bullying and the teasing that he endures on a day-to-day basis. He has great parents, but he deals with much of the bullying without telling anyone.

They find solace in each other at school and beyond, despite a series of ups and downs...and the natural vulnerability of being in middle school. To this mix, we add other supportive adults who provide hope and stability for this trio of misfits.

Everyone should meet at least one teacher like Owen McQueen:

"Thank you all for your fine papers. I can't wait to read them." McQueen stepped to the front of the room. "I'm supposed to teach you how to take standardized reading tests so you won't be the child left behind. But because I'm subversive" - he turned and wrote the word on the board as he talked - "(look it up if you don't know what it means, and it will be on the vocabulary test next week), I'm actually going to teach you a passion for the written word."

Lucky the students who meet such a person on their way to being literate.

And Connie is very special, first to Velveeta and then to Travis, too. Of Connie, Velveeta notes:

"Connie sent me to the bakery. She uses cookies and doughnut holes to lure people into the library, and then she hits them over the head with books. I told her I don't read books and she said, "If you work in my library, you do," and I asked if she was going to fire me and she shoved a book in my hands."

As trust grows and the three young people become interdependent, their lives can begin to have new meaning for each one of them. The books that Travis and Velveeta are reading make connections to themselves and help them deal with the lives they now lead. Grandpa is able to talk with his grandson about the loss of their beloved dog, and they move to a new plane of understanding.

Grief...they all know it. Connie has a take on that, as well:

"I told her that Calvin being dead is like a long-fingered claw that keeps scratching at my heart. She said she knows that claw. She said grief is a rough ride but the only way through it is through it."

When Velveeta and Grandpa discover they have Travis in common, they have a funny conversation about the boy they both admire:

"Travis was talking about me?" Velveeta clicked the seat belt between her and Travis. "What did he say?"
"Not much at all. Gotta drag words out of him with a backhoe and a crowbar." "I know, right?" Velveeta
laughed. "He only gives out ten a day. Fifteen on Fridays."

Yes sir, these are people to love and hold in your hearts for a long time!

You will find this remarkable book on my 'keepers' shelf.

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