Saturday, April 11, 2015

Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt

So, I took a break from my usual method of reading for this blog.  Thus far I've made a real effort to read books in some sort of order from oldest to most recent.  But when I was at the library not long ago, I was in a bit of a hurry and just snagged a few with the Newbery Award sticker on the spine so I could get to reading.  1967 was quite a jump forward, and I have to admit that I found it pretty disorienting.  Because there was no mention of technology to speak of, it was very hard to place this coming-of-age novel in a timeframe.  I assumed that it was at some point after both World Wars, since there was no mention of absent or dead fathers.  But girls were still expected to wear skirts or dresses, there were annoying instances of previously-acceptable sexism, and a horse was a common mode of transportation.  Additionally, living a few miles out of town was sufficient to exile some one from a social life, and high school engagements were accepted.  Where and when does this book take place?!  I do not know.  That said, the experiences in the novel are very relatable because the author has a gift for pinpointing emotions.

The book follows Julie, our protagonist, from the age of seven through her high school graduation.  Julie has two older siblings: Christopher, who is three years older, and Laura, who is older by about six or seven years.  As the book opens, their mother has just died from an unspecified illness (although the death isn't stated explicitly, which made circumstances confusing to me for a while), and Julie is recovering from this illness herself.  Unable to cope and run the household single-handedly, their father sends Julie and Chris to live in the country with their unmarried aunt Cordelia (this book feels so dated that I almost referred to her as "maiden aunt" because the term makes sense in the context of the book).  Because Laura will be graduating from high school before too long, and she is assumed to be less adaptable due to her age, she remains in town with their father.  Only five miles or so away, this distance appears a very significant one to travel.

Julie feels the break in her family very acutely.  Although Chris is a close playmate, Laura has served as a second mother to Julie, so she naturally feels abandoned at the loss of affection.  Aunt Cordelia is difficult to get to know.  Although not unkind, she is firm and strict.  Cordelia also teaches the regional school single-handedly.  Julie makes a few friends locally, as well as the acquaintance of her spoiled uncle Haskell (supposedly an author, although he's more often found drinking than typing).

The reader is able to follow Julie as she matures into a young lady as she deals with numerous losses, disappointments, and periods of confusion in her life.  Many of the experiences are universal, but Julie's advantage is that she is under the mentorship of numerous understanding adults who deal with her patiently, compassionately, and honestly.   I don't know who, exactly, I'd recommend this book to- I'd really have to see what else they were reading, but most likely some one who likes realistic fiction and doesn't mind historical fiction, either (there's nothing distinctly historical here, but the lack of more modern conveniences is noteworthy).  It doesn't have a lot of action or earth-shattering consequences, as most current novels seem to, but it nonetheless holds interest well.

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