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Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Great Unexpected, written by Sharon Creech. Harper, 2012. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"If you saw Mrs. Mudkin, you might wonder why she herself was not on the list of the poor, unfortunate elderly. Tiny and narrow as a stick, she had papery skin so thin you could see right through to her veins. On her face, as wrinkled as an old plum, were narrow glasses dotted with rhinestones. Her hair was violet and tightly curled; her brown-flowered dress fell to her tightly-laced, sturdy shoes."

There are two stories here...stories that you have a feeling must be connected. There are some clues along the way and a mysterious tenor as the story moves forward, leaving the reader to make some connections and struggle with others.

When we meet Naomi Deane and her friend Lizzie, they are concerned about a boy who has just fallen out of a tree. He appears to be dead. Then, he isn't! He is not from Blackbird Tree where the girls make their home, and he says little about where he's from or why he's in their town. Naomi immediately feels a connection to him, and becomes quite disconcerted when she thinks he might be interested in Lizzie. Lizzie denies everything and Naomi is left to consider her jealousy:

"And so I, to my supreme mortification, had to tell Finn where my friend Lizzie Scatterdinghead lived, and then I had to watch him wave at me as he turned and headed in the direction of Lizzie's house, and then I had to force my body to aim for home, picking up my leaden feet one at a slow, glompy time.  My brain was shut down,. I felt as if a fungus had infiltrated every little convoluted corner."

Naomi's life changed dramatically as a child following the deaths, first of her mother, and then her father who died trying to protect Naomi from a rabid dog. Naomi was left an orphan, with a mangled arm and understandable hysteria about dogs. At the death of her only parent, their neighbors Joe and Nula give her the love and guidance she needs to grow and prosper. Lizzie has also been reared by neighbors...the two girls have much in common. 

While Naomi tells her story, we are also privy to another story being played out. In chapters headed  'Across the Ocean', we also meet Mrs. Kavanagh:

"While Naomi and Lizzie were learning the name of the body that fell from the tree, across the ocean in a stately manor on the southeastern coast of Ireland, the elderly Mrs. Kavanagh paused as she wrote on a piece of fine parchment. She placed her pen to one side and tapped a finger on the desk.
"There. Enough for now." She smiled a wistful smile. "T'will be a fine, fine revenge."

The stories told do have a connection through a pair of crows that Naomi notices while helping make life more comfortable for the curmudgeonly Mr. Farley. As we share both Naomi's narrative and the chapters that have Mrs. Kavanagh,  Pilpenny and Mr. Dingle in the scenes from Ireland, we learn about that connection.

Sharon Creech's characters are always so original and admirable. You want them to be a part of your life. Lucky we are that they seem to become that for the short time we are with them. Always memorable, they often call me back for a second visit. As soon as I finished reading this new and lovely novel, I hugged it close and made the decision to read it again.

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