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Book Reviews of Literature for Children and Young Adults
Young Adult Literature
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David Shannon, Author
Author Study - Louis Sachar

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Hinton, S.E.  1967.  The Outsiders.  New York:  Viking.   

     ISBN:0670532576.

 

     The Outsiders is a powerful contemporary realistic fiction novel told in the first person by Ponyboy, the main protagonist.  Ponyboy is only thirteen but he is part a gang called the Greasers because of their long hair that they grease back.  The Greasers live in the poor part of town.  Their antagonists are the Socs.  The Socs are the rich society kids who live across town.  They look down on the Greasers and beat them up just for fun.

     One night after an argument with his brother, Darry, Ponyboy runs out the house and to the park with his best friend Johnny.  Johnny had been beaten badly by the Socs in the past and carried a knife to protect himself.  The Socs find them.  In the altercation that ensues, Johnny kills the Soc that had previously beaten him.  Johnny and Ponyboy get help from another Greaser, Dally.  Dally helps them leave town.  For a week they hide in an old church in another town, until Dally comes.  Johnny decides to turn himself in to the police.  As they were leaving town they see that the old church they had hidden in was on fire.  They stop.  Some children are trapped and Ponyboy and Johnny rescue them.  Johnny gets seriously injured and later dies.  Dally, unable to handle the death of Johnny, fools the police that he has a loaded gun and they kill him. This event in the story illustrates the tough Dally’s gentle side for caring about another human being.

     From these events Ponyboy makes some important discoveries that will impact his future.  The theme of coming of age and making discovery about who you are is throughout the story as Ponyboy discovers that his older brother really loves him, dealing with the death of his friend and Dally, and discovering that the Socs aren’t so different from the Greasers. 

     At the end of the story Ponyboy is failing his English class and the only way he can bring up his grade is to write a composition. He wrestles with what to write. Finally, he chooses to write it about what happened and the story goes full circle to the beginning.  This story is Ponyboy’s story for his English class.

     S.E. Hinton creates a violent world where loyalties demand that you fight.  Many of the families are nontraditional or as in Johnny’s situation, dysfunctional.  The theme of loyalty and support for your friends is throughout the story. The characters are likeable.  Their weaknesses as well as strengths are shown as in this description of Johnny by Ponyboy, “If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you’ll have Johnny.” The readers are able to understand the fear that motivated Johnny to kill that boy and also to see how later he had the strength to decide to turn himself in. This story will grip the reader’s emotions and will create a support for the underdog.

    

Dickinson, Peter.  2001.  The Ropemaker.  Illustrated by Ian Andrew.  New York:    

     Delacorte Press.  ISBN:  0385729219.

 

 

     The Ropemaker is a young adult fantasy novel with a strong female protagonist who discovers her extraordinary powers while on a quest. 

     For twenty generations Tilja’s family has brought barley to the forest and sang to the cedars.  Each generation would produce a female who could hear the cedars talk to them. For twenty years the magic in the cedars would not let the men enter the forest without getting sick.  This has kept the emperor’s armies out but now the magic is getting weak. 

     Each year the snows would block the passage and Tahl’s family was able to hear the whisper of the magic streams.  The magic in the cedars and the snows has kept the emperor from collecting taxes and punishing the valley people during this time.  The snows are starting to melt and the magic of the streams is weakening.  The valley people fear that the emperor will come with his armies.

     Tilja, her grandmother, Tahl, and his grandfather go on a quest to the empire as their ancestors first did twenty generations ago to get the magic restored.  The streams tell them that Faheel, the magician still lives.  He has the magic ring.  They enter the empire which is different from their valley because there is magic there.  The emperor tries to control all the magic with his watchers.  The watchers can detect when magic is being used.  Tilja’s grandmother, Meena has a magic spoon named Axtrig that shows them how to find Faheel. Unlike her grandmother, mother, and younger sister, Tilja does not have the ability to hear the cedars.  She finds out that she has another gift where she can direct the magic from things.  She can take the magic from Axtrig, which keeps it from being detected by the emperor’s watchers. This turns out to be a very important gift. The plot is fairly fast moving as Tilja and Tahl encounter problems and solutions during their quest with help from the Ropemaker, a very powerful magician.  He follows them in their quest in many different disguises. They eventually find Faheel and he is ready end his life and to pass the ring on to the next magician.  The only worthy one is the  Ropemaker.  Throughout their journey evil forces are looking to destroy them. At the end of the story Tilja realizes her place in the world is beyond her family home.  The story goes full circle with descendents of the Tilja’s and Tahl’s families needing to restore the magic once again.

     The theme of the story is growing up and discovering our place in the world.  In the story Tilja thought she would always live at her family home, Woodbourne.  But she finds out the farm will go to Anja, her younger sister because she had the ability to talk to the cedars.  While on the quest for the magic to save the valley, Tilja discovers she has a particular gift that is not useful in the Valley, only in the empire where there is magic.  All the valley’s magic is in the cedars and streams. She also builds a strong bond with her grandmother who though physically weak had a very strong personality.

     This book will keep the reader interested with its interesting characters and plot.

 

Rawls, Wilson.  1961.  Where the Red Fern Grows: The Story of Two Dogs and a Boy. 

     New York:  Bantam Books.  ISBN: 0553274295.

 

     Billy the main protagonist tells the story in a flashback to the time when he was a young boy growing up in Oklahoma.  He wanted two hound dogs.  He saved for two years to raise the money to order the dogs. Throughout the story Rawls shows a young boy who is determined and perseveres against many obstacles. Just to raise the money to buy the dogs Billy worked selling bait to fishermen, vegetables, and berries. He would also trap and sell the furs. Each time he would only make pennies at a time but during those two years he raised fifty dollars.  When he finally was able to order the dogs, he had to walk about thirty miles to pick them up.  He trained his dogs to hunt coons.  On his first hunting night with his dogs, a coon was chased by the dogs in a large sycamore tree; Billy worked hard all night and the next day to chop down the tree so he would not disappoint his dogs.

     The plot of the story involves many of Billy’s hunting coons at night with his dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. Coons are tricky animals and Little Ann was hard to trick.  The two dogs and Billy grew to have a special relationship and were inseparable.  The dogs were a special team. They also began to build a reputation of being great coon hunters with the help of Billy’s grandfather who owned a store. In one part of the story Billy and his grandfather is challenged by the Pritchard boys to catch the ghost coon.  The night goes wrong when the older Pritchard boy, Rubin falls on the ax while running to kill Billy’s dogs.  The reader sees Billy’s need for closure when he places flowers on Rubin’s grave.

     Billy’s grandfather reads about a championship coon hunt and signs Billy and his dogs up for it.  Billy’s papa and grandfather go on the coon hunting with him and see the special relationship between them. This special bond between Billy and his dogs is the theme of the story.  Billy’s proudest moment for his dogs was when through a blizzard they are able to win the championship coon hunt. They also win three hundred dollars that will change their life.

     The title of the book comes from the end of the story when Old Dan gets severely injured by a mountain lion while saving Billy’s life.  This is the final climax in the story.  Old Dan dies and Little Ann gives up on life.  Billy buries the dogs.  The money made it possible to leave the farm and go to live in town.  Before they go, Billy goes to the dog’s graves and he sees a red fern growing between them as in the old Indian legend.

     Rawl’s style creates characters and animals that his readers care about.  His readers will not fail to cry when Old Dan and Little Ann die.  This story will evoke memories of pets that we no longer have.   

 

 

 

 

 

This page created to fulfill requirement for
LS 5623 Advanced Literature for Young Adults
for
Texas Woman's University