If a child’s voice in an adult novel doesn’t ring true, it’s the worst sort of blasphemy: kids are about as real as it comes and it’s easy to spot a charlatan. But when I read a book that sounds like my inner child, or a childhood friend, I fall right in. For instance, the letters of Ivy Rowe in Fair and Tender Ladies (Lee Smith) as she struggles with spelling and her impressions of the world; or Ellen Foster (Kaye Gibbons), who asserts, “When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy;” or Miles in Jim Lynch’s The Highest Tide, as he comes to terms with the strange “squids” of his world. These are the children’s voices I listen for when I read. I was delighted to discover a few titles that rang my kid bell this year: some old, some new.
William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, while incredibly sad thematically, calls to mind those fleeting friendships we had as children, when we thought our play and our buddies would stay the same forever – when we’d say “see ya” and be sure we would. The narrator tells us of his broken friendship when Cletus Smith ceased to be a boy when he became the son of a murderer.
Whenever I think about the “profoundly gifted” twins in Thank You for All Things (Sandra Kring), I have to laugh thinking about the nerd kids I knew (oh okay, I was a nerd kid) who would be quite comfortable sitting with Milo and his mathematical equations or posing Lucy’s Sigmund Freud puppet and his little chaise longue. Lucy’s inner voice is hilariously pointed and runs counterpoint to the story, which deals with a crotchety dying grandpa, a New Agey grandma and a long-suffering mother with a very big secret.
In The Dead Fathers Club (Matt Haig), eleven-year-old Philip Noble believes he must kill his Uncle Alan, whose actions caused his father’s death and who is now romancing Philip’s mom. He steels himself for the task after a long chat with his father’s ghost. Never before has a retelling of Hamlet been so funny – suspension of disbelief is required here! The question you ask as you read this story is whether Philip’s grief, outrage and frustration will find expression in murder or will the spunky little guy pull through?