Friday, July 3, 2009

Review: Youthful Summer


Generally, it seems pretty easy to determine if a book fits into the YA genre, but Silas House’s new novel, Eli the Good, threw me for a loop. His writing is carefully crafted to set the tone of any given scene, and the main character, Eli, seems to think in prose. I had no idea that this novel was, in fact, House’s YA debut until I did a bit of research about the author.

The year is 1976, and Eli Book is ten years old. With the book told entirely from his perspective, the reader learns first hand why this summer is different than all the others. The story starts at the beginning of the summer, when a ten year old’s world is suddenly graced with freedom and responsibility is out the window. Days consist of bike rides, swims in the lake, and not much more.

When we meet the other characters, we discover the conflict present in Eli’s seemingly paradisaical world. His beautiful mother seems distant, preoccupied with smoothing ties between his Vietnam traumatized father and his sister, a former Vietnam protester that has taken up residence in the Book house. Eli’s older sister Josie is in a spree of rebellion, questioning all she was taught to believe and clashing with her parents who just doesn’t understand her way of thinking. Edie is the girl next door and Eli’s best friend, but she turns inward when her parents decide to split up.

Eli is stuck in the middle of it all, as he watches the people he loves tear at each other. But he always remains on the perimeter, usually eavesdropping.

This book was much more than I expected at first glance. It is incredibly heartfelt, and Eli is one of the most likeable characters I have encountered in a while. He possesses a deep understanding of what is happening around him, much more than anyone would guess. The narrative is a nice mix of what’s going on both inside and outside his head. I was reminded of how much thought goes through a ten-year-old’s mind–observing, analyzing, pondering life’s events. House gives us the full story by using the adult Eli to recount the summer from his ten-year-old perspective. The situations beyond a child’s understanding are explained by this older voice.

Eli the Good had me crying at the end. Not out of sadness; but it just seemed so poetic. I remembered the complexity of being a child–figuring out the world and how it all worked, and holding on to little moments and feelings that you want to last a lifetime. Eli has profound little one-liners that are sprinkled throughout the book, but the most telling of his story is this:

“Whole scenes of your life can slip away forever if you don’t put them down in ink.”

This instantly became an all-time favorite, and I highly recommend it.

Candlewick Press
304 Pages, Hardcover
ISBN 978-0-7636-4341-6


Sheila DeChantal said…

wow that sounds really good. I would love to review this book. Thanks for sharing yur thoughts on it.

Salvatore said…

That line quoted is quite nice. It reminds me of another book, though which one is slipping me right now. Sounds like a worthy read.

Nihal Parthasarathi said…

yeah, I'm excited to check this out – sigh, this blog just makes my list longer every day.

In the meantime, if you haven't seen this, check it out:

Six Word Stories:

Salvatore said…

That six word memoir really has taken quite a few sites by storm.

SuziQoregon said…

I'm in the middle of this book right now and just loving it.