Saturday, February 23, 2008

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

I didn't want to like this book. I really didn't. After reading the reviews I avoided it. Jesus Boy? How hokey is that? I figured it had Newbery written all over it, but hoped it would not win so I would not feel obligated to read it.

But then it did, and then I did, and so read I did. And I was pleasantly surprised.

In 1971 Frannie's town is divided by the highway - black and white. Frannie lives on the black side of town and attends the Price School with all the other kids from her side of the highway. On January 6 a new boy arrives, white as the falling snow, with long brown hair and gray eyes. Jesus Boy. Who else looks like that on the black side of town? Must be Jesus.

As the story unfolds the reader learns about Frannie's family. Her older brother is deaf. Frannie knows how wonderful he is, but too many other people simply dismiss him. Frannie's baby sister Lila died, her mother lost another pregnancy after that, and is now pregnant again. Then there's Samantha, her best friend whose father is a preacher, adding another layer to the Jesus Boy storyline. One classmate is full of anger, while one seems to be the willing victim. Another classmate is the rich stuck-up kid. But all of them, as Frannie realizes, have much more in common than thought at first.

There's a lot of Jesus in this book. Frannie has chicken pox scars on her hands. Samantha wants to believe Jesus Boy really is Jesus, returned to attend their school. Frannie's parents go to church, her grandmother goes to two churches (frequently bonking Frannie's head with her Bible), and Frannie rarely goes at all. ("Don't you want to be saved, Frannie?" asks Samantha.) But Frannie, the least church-y, does the most Christian thing, helping Trevor in a time of need when most others are quietly pleased that he got what's coming to him. The thread of faith runs throughout the story, leaving readers to wonder what makes a person faith-full. What drives a person to God? Sadness and need? Obligation? Tradition? Or the desire to do what's right, even when it's not popular?

I've stated why I'll recommend books here, and following those guidelines, I can't recommend Feathers. But that doesn't stop me from saying that it's a good book, one that certainly made an impression on me, one that I'll tell others about. I just won't be putting it into students hands saying, "Here's one you just have to read!"

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