Monday, March 30, 2015

Reviewing Gene Stratton Porter's “A Girl of the Limberlost”

Freckles is about a teenage boy looking for his identity and family. A Girl of the Limberlost is about a teenage girl who knows who she is, who knows who her relatives are, but is nevertheless still searching for those relationships. 

In many ways this sequel…well, isn’t a sequel. This second book exists in the same “world” as Freckles, but in it the Limberlost becomes almost a fairy tale environment. The danger is mostly gone from the days Freckles had to worry about the swamp sucking him up, or poisonous snakes, or the murderous Black Jack and his gang. Moving in and making herself at home in Freckle’s old garden” room comes highschooler Elnora Comstock. Freckles, his Swamp Angel, and the Bird Woman are all there, but they are almost like fairy godmothers to Elnora. 

Elnora is bright, hard-working, compassionate and generous. She lives at the edge of the Limberlost with her mother Katherine, who is cold, harsh, unloving and miserly. For the purposes of Elnora’s fairy-tale life, Kate Comstock fills the roll of “evil stepmother” for most of the book, and most of the plot hinges on their mercurial relationship. Against her mother’s wishes Elnora strives to educate and better herself, first by going to high school—though she finds herself a subject of ridicule for her hillbilly appearance—and then by earning money to go to college by helping the Bird Woman collect rare moths.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Reviewing Gene Stratton Porter's "Freckles"

During the cold, grey winter, it felt so good to get back in touch with nature that after reading Sterling North's Rascal I continued deeper into an imaginary forest by reading Freckles and its better-known sequel, A Girl of the Limberlost. Written by photographer, conservationist, and naturalist Gene Stratton Porter, these novels are set in the Limberlost, a marshy area of Indiana during the turn of the 20th century. 

In Freckles, the titular character is a one-handed orphan boy of Irish descent, just old enough to be released from the care of an orphanage. Freckles has no money, training, education or family. He doesn’t even have a name beyond “Freckles,” which is solely due to the liberal sprinkling of said spots across his face. Because he has no education he has to look for physical labor to support himself, but because he was crippled as a baby, Freckles has the use of only one arm, and finding physical labor he can do one-handed makes his plight all the more hopeless. Being crippled and nameless is the main inner struggle Freckles has to undergo during the book. He’s convinced that his own mother crushed his arm, and the thought haunts him, making him doubt that anyone would ever want or love him.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reviewing Sterling North's “Rascal”

When I finished reading 100 new, chapter-length books in a year last November, I did something I normally don’t do. With all of December open before me, I actually re-read some books that I’d been meaning to re-read for some time. Some books are just like a good glass of cool water on a parched throat. They hit the spot so well that even as you lick your lips at the last drop, you wish you could go back and feel that sense of satisfaction for just awhile longer. 

But with so many new books I want to read—and as that list is constantly growing—I rarely get time to do more than peruse and skim the books I own and have read once before. Some readers, I know, don’t re-read at all. Others are almost the opposite; they find a series they love and re-read it every year, some of them rarely venturing into new territories at all.  My heart lies somewhere in the middle. New books are like traveling. Re-reading is like going home. And with that longing for home in mind—especially around the holidays—I decided last December to read some books that my mom read to me when I was home-schooled. It was a middle-ground: I’d heard the words, but technically I’d never “read” these books myself. 

Every Christmas I come down with what I call “Charlie Brown” syndrome. A desire to get away from all the commercialism and lights, and get a feel of what Christmas really means. I think that’s reflected in what I decided to re-read, as well. And there’s no better place to start looking for a story of “a simpler time” than Sterling North’s Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era.