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Quaking Paperback – February 18, 2010
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Fourteen-year-old Matt (short for Matilda) arrives at her latest foster home and discovers that her new guardians have personalities--and convictions--as strong as her own. Unwillingly at first, Matt eventually accompanies foster parent Sam to Quaker Friends' meetings. She also learns to cope with a new school, where she likes most of the classes but fears a bully and her world civ. teacher. A series of attacks on area houses of worship--presumably by locals angered by antiwar sentiments espoused by the Quaker congregation members--builds to a heavily foreshadowed climax. In spite of Matt's rather quick adjustment to family life after years of fear and emotional deadening, this is a compelling story, which enfolds the political issues into a deeper focus on the characters' personal stories. Idealistic teens will be interested in Matt's growing acceptance of her new family, of Quaker values, and of her need to take action, rather than simply observe. Francisca Goldsmith
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
About the Author
Kathryn Erskine spent many years as a lawyer before realizing that she’d rather write things that people might actually enjoy reading. She grew up mostly overseas and attended eight different schools, her favorite being the Hogwarts-type castle in Scotland. The faculty, of course, did not consist of wizards, although . . . how did the headmistress know that it was “the wee redhead” who led the campaign to free the mice from the biology lab? Erskine draws on her childhood—and her second childhood through her children—for her stories. She still loves to travel but nowadays most trips tend to be local, such as basketball and tennis courts, occasional emergency room visits, and the natural food store for very healthy organic chocolate with “life saving” flavonoids.
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Matt's narration sometimes comes off as a bit stilted, using phrasing that doesn't sound like it would come from a teenager. This is somewhat justified in how she is far ahead of the average student, but there are a few lines that struck me as awkward and briefly took me out of the story. Luckily, Matt's character is interesting, as Erskine provides just the right amount of back-story to make her feel human, yet not so much as to bore the reader. The family she stays with also seems realistic; each member adds something interesting to the novel.
The novel is full of conflict, hitting a wide variety of emotions just right. Some scenes are sad, others heartwarming, others suspenseful, others funny. Although Erskine occasionally slips into melodrama, she's usually very adept at balancing drama with some lighthearted scenes or witty comic relief. Although I feel like the story could use one more chapter to wrap things up more neatly, the pacing is usually just right.
Erskine has travelled many places and has met many people, which is clear in her interesting portrayal of the Quaker religion as a whole. We find out about their history, how they worship, and how they encourage people to live peacefully. I, for one, learned a number of interesting facts about this unique sect of Christianity. Also, Erskine does a good job depicting how pacifists such as them struggle in our violent world today.
The thematic scope of the book is large enough that I could easily recommend it to adults. Plus, our narrator isn't a girly girl by any means, so the average male should have no problem reading this.
I do have one serious problem with the book, though. It's clear that Erskine wants to promote pacifism and dispel some myths about it. That is fine with me: it gives the work depth beyond mere entertainment. Not to mention I'm a pacifist myself. But the thing is, I cannot imagine a non-pacifist making it through this book.
The only two pro-war characters that play a significant role in the story are both very dislikable people. One is a punk kid often referred to as "the Rat," and the other is a blowhard teacher with nose hair that looks like Adolf Hitler's mustache. They both curse like sailors and treat pacifists like dung. Can you imagine how a non-pacifist would react while reading how they're portrayed? I wouldn't be shocked if the reader closed the book, completely offended, and never came back.
Sure, you do get some more information on these pro-war characters later in the story, so they are not one-dimensional. But I could imagine most non-pacifists giving up on the book before reaching that point. More problematic, not once does Erskine give us a nice character who, through their own logic, has come to believe that war is necessary. Nope, all the pro-war characters are cocky, brainless blowhards in this novel. I know plenty of nice people who are in favor of war. They deserve fair representation, even if we pacifists don't agree with their logic.
Since I can't imagine a pro-war reader making it through the book, Erskine is basically preaching to the choir here. You'll enjoy the read as long as you're not in favor of war, but don't give this novel to anyone in hopes of "converting" them. Don't get me wrong: Erskine is telling an emotionally-charged story with interesting characters, so the book definitely has plenty of merits. I enjoyed reading it, and I hope you will too.
Beckie Weinheimer, author CONVERTING KATE, Viking Books 2007.
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However, I have a serious problem with the story.Read more