“You prayed,” said Jesus. “I showed up.
I would have been here sooner,
but traffic on the I-55 was awful.”
– from Coaltown Jesus
Coaltown Jesus is an unexpected treat, an engaging and emotionally laden book-length poem featuring 14-year-old Walker, in agony, pleading with God for help. He gets a personalized answer.
Jesus is a surprise, however. And it’s taking Him a bit of time to re-adjust to embodiment. Luckily, He has a rather snarky sense of humour.
Walker thinks he’s going mad. In a way, he is, because he’s struggling to cope with the sudden death of his older brother.
His mother, a widow, runs a nursing home. Two months after the loss of her eldest, she still cries all the time. Walker was praying for his mum.
He’s a teen, he can cope quite well, he tells Jesus. But he truly doesn’t understand the why. And he makes demands of God to kill others instead.
It’s the question everyone asks upon a death:
“Why now?” Walker asked. “I prayed
to God like a thousand times. And what
happened? Noah died. Didn’t God look
downstairs? It’s a nursing home. Half
my mom’s clients are ready to check
out. But he picks a kid.”
Author Ron Koertge has written more than dozen books for teens, and he’s witty and good with pacing. Every free verse poem in Coaltown Jesus (2013) (two pages at most) is carefully situated with each poem given a practical title, with many of those titles incorporated into the story. This may sound like a sad and painful idea, but the book is touching, funny, and thoughtful.
This tome is a new arrival. You’ll now find the new arrivals for younger folk in the children’s section itself, with extra big colourful dots on the spine so you’ll instantly know what’s just come in.
Coaltown Jesus also introduces a puppy to readers (and to Walker’s mum). And so, herewith, two more New Arrivals with dogs as main characters.
For the younger set, number 46 in the entertaining and educational (shhh!) Magic Tree House series (by Mary Pope Osborne). Siblings Jack and Annie are now old hands at controlling the tree house – grab a book, point to a page, and be instantly transported in time and space! They’ve by now discovered the tree house’s “owner”, Morgan Le Fay, and pal Merlin the Magician.
In this four-book quest within the larger series, the kids have agreed to help rescue a pet penguin that has been turned to stone. Dogs In The Dead Of Night (2011) is the second in the search for the ingredients of a fix-it spell (though the book can be read as a standalone or out of sequence), and involves a trip to an abbey in the Alps during the time Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops are on the march.
Hero Saint Bernards, trained by monks, sniff out anyone buried by an avalanche – hopefully while the victims are still alive. This is a fast read with illustrations and adventure.
Then there’s the prolific Gordon Korman and his adventure books. The Swindle series is titled after a man whose nickname tells you all you need to know. Six kids worked together (in the book Swindle, the first in the series) to save a 150-pound Doberman from Swindle’s clutches, and in the doing discover that a dog is vicious when its owner trains it to be cruel.
The book Hideout (2013) is number five, in which Swindle, as the rightful owner of the dog, gets a court order for its return. The young people are horrified, and determine to ignore the law. (Luckily for them, the judge does not toss all the parents in jail — or at least, doesn’t do it immediately.)
The six young people are split up for the summer, two each to three different summer camps. One is a regular sports and crafts camp, another a drama and acting camp, a third specializes in xtreme sports like caving, climbing and windsurfing.
The kids each take the dog in turn, as the gigantic and at times frantic Doberman tries to stay one step ahead of the bad guys seeking to – legally! — dognap him.
At some 270 pages, this is the longest read, but it’s also a perfect adventure for the summer. Woof!
You’re welcome, cynophiles.
The latest Maclean’s magazine features a look at a long-running Canadian literary feud. It’s a prize fight between André Alexis and David Gilmour, two giants of CanLit.
It started in with Gilmour’s 2005 novel, A Perfect Night To Go To China. Alexis reviewed it in the Globe And Mail: “He took exception to the narrator, which, being a David Gilmour novel, was assumed to be Gilmour himself: ‘It’s hard to accompany a character so obsessed with his own bulls**t.’”
Nonetheless, it won a Governor General’s literary award that year. Afterwards, Gilmour confessed to seeking out Alexis: “I thought, ‘I’m going to beat the living sh*t out of this guy.’”
Gilmour’s ultimate revenge, however, came in the 2011 novel, The Perfect Order Of Things. A rather unflattering portrayal of Alexis appeared in the person of the “fictional” René Goblin, whose caricatured facial features, Gilmour wrote, resemble a “deposed African tyrant…. Why are all those men always so ugly?”
Gilmour is white; Alexis is black.
And Alexis has now released an essay attacking Goblin as being based on racist stereotypes, “an ugly, jazz-loving and dread-locked spook – given his marching orders by a character named ‘Lynch’ – [who] ends up happy once he’s put in his place for dissing and then eyeballing an endlessly appalled white man.”
The essay follows Alexis’s 2013 novella, titled simple A, which features “Gil Davidoff”, a womanizing author. (Other Alexis comments about the character are not printable in a family newspaper, although they include the phrase “pathologically narcissistic”.)
Another of Gilmour’s claims to media fame is the infamous comment made a year ago about teaching only “serious heterosexual guys” to the students in his university English class.
Maclean’s magazine notes that both men are well-known and successful Toronto-based writers (although Alexis spent much of his life in Ottawa): “Gilmour excels at [the] testosterone-fueled confessional, Alexis is known for artful social satires and parables.”
Alexis is also a playwright; he was born in Trinidad but arrived in Canada as a young child. The Lennoxville Library has his debut novel, the award-winning Childhood: A Novel, as well as Asylum, and Ingrid And The Wolf.
David Gilmour is also an arts reviewer and journalist, was born in London, Ont., and grew up in Toronto. The Lennoxville Library has A Perfect Night To Go To China, the book that started it all (it is about the loss of a child). We also have How Boys See Girls: Novel (older man pursues young woman) and The Film Club: A True Story Of A Father And Son, as well as the French version, L’école des films: Récit.
Want to read more by these authors? We now offer an interlibrary loan service.
– Eleanor Brown, July 11, 2014