Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lunch-Box Dream by Tony Abbott

There's no arguing that Tony Abbott has beautiful writing. He can take a moment and stretch it into a melodramatic and moving sequence of images. His love of trains is obvious from The Haunting of Derek Stone series to his latest novel, Lunch-Box Dream: 

"'There they are! The tracks. I see them. Drive across.' And she drove the car forward on the flat road, nearly stopping where the dark rails sliced it, then rolled over them without power, until horns started honking behind them and they had to speed up again."

That's Ricky, Bobby's older brother who is a train-loving, history buff. Bobby narrates most of this story and from the get-go the author makes the reader uncomfortable with Bobby's derogatory comment about the African American garbage men as being "chocolate men." Bobby and his brother, Ricky, are afraid of the men and run into the house. Their grandma is visiting from Florida and has a Hungarian accent that also makes the boys uncomfortable. Ricky, Bobby and their mom are going to drive their grandma home stopping off at battlefields from Ohio to the deep south during 1959. The alternate story is from several different African American characters and follows the story of a boy named Jacob who is visiting his aunt in the south and like Bobby is not cautious about his speech. And in the south if an African American whistles at a white girl or says something derogatory, he or she can get brutally murdered and there are no laws that will ensure justice. The Jim Crow laws are in effect and while Lincoln might have passed the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery has taken on a different form in the mandated segregation laws.

Abbott does such a good job at showing rather than telling that I was confused at times as to where he was going with the story. It comes together at the end but I found all the different points of view kept me from engaging with the characters. Plus, Bobby is not a likable kid. He is mean to his brother, thinks ill of people different than him, and thinks it's okay to steal. While he changes at the end, it is not until the last chapter. Make sure you read and reference the Cast of Characters listed after the copyright page. There are 16 in total to keep tabs on.  You'll need it to keep straight all the different characters speaking in each chapter. I also don't think the Jim Crow Laws and Emancipation Proclamation are explained enough for younger readers to understand the author's message. The violence is told second hand and some of the characters are physically abused by their fathers. While the book has short chapters and looks like it is for young reader's, don't be fooled, I would recommend this for grades 5 and up.

Reading Level 5.7

3 out of 5 Smileys

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