The second book I've completed for today's Read-a-Thon is Jimmy's Stars, by Mary Ann Rodman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, middle grade, 257 pages).
About an hour ago I needed a break from the very dense fantasy I was reading, and picked up a book that I happened to have out from the library about which I had heard good things. Now I am still sniffing a little as I type this, because this story of a girl on the homefront in WW II made my cry like a baby...
Ellie's big brother Jimmy was the light of her life. He was the one who made her feel special, who brought joy to everything they did together. So when Jimmy went off to war, Ellie clung to his promise that he'd be back. Long months of missing him past, with Ellie navigating the ins and outs of middle school, trying to get used to the aunt who moved into his room, and coping with the extra work around the house that she has to shoulder with her mother doing war work...but all the while she clings to the promise that he'd made, that he'd be back. And Ellie, just as she had promised, keeps the Christmas tree up, waiting for him.
And then, on page 201, comes the part where I start crying...
I wasn't quite sure if I was going to like this book for the first few chapters--Ellie's life was so ordinary, and she herself was neither particularly likable or dislikable. Just an average girl with an average family. But as the war came closer and closer to home, and Ellie began to realize all its implications, and I was hooked. I think Rodman does a great job with this important part of the book--not didactic, or overtly anti-war, but making clear that heroism isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Jimmy is, by any definition, a hero, but Rodman makes it clear that more importantly than that, he is also a good person. The most moving part of the book was when Ellie's family discovered all the many small ways in which he had done good things for others.
A fine book indeed, although I worry that the young reader might be off-put by the slow start, and I am afraid that boys, who might well benefit from the book, will not even give it any sort of chance. Especially not with the cover on the hardback, shown above. The British paperback cover, at right, is much more appealing.
That being said, my own 9 year old liked the naughty rhyme about Hitler and Mussolini very much (which I probably should not have been sharing with him, but I guess it's Educational to know who Mussolini is, as well as the more obvious Hitler...). But he didn't like it enough to want to read the book....sigh.
Here's the review at Biblio File that made me want to read the book.