Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Alex Read #3:
over and under by Todd Tucker

Aarrggh! Reading 10 books before the end of school is a little challenging, but fun. Writing about each one is HARD!! Especially if it's one I enjoyed. Why is writing about something I didn't especially like much easier?

over and under is a graceful novel about best friends Andy and Tom, and the last summer before high school. It's 1979, and the boys rule their rural south Indiana kingdom, riding bikes, spying on the local factory strike, exploring caves and practicing their crackerjack marksmanship. Tom and Andy aren't identical, though. Tom, son of a large family, impulsive and reckless, is the instigator of the adventures that only-child Andy follows and narrates. The strike at the Borden Casket Company highlights another difference: Tom's family is labor, Andy's is management. And when one of Tom's cousins is implicated in an explosion that kills the factory manager, family loyalties pull hard and set the friends on divergent paths toward their adult selves.

The story is narrated by an adult Andy, with the maturity and knowledge of hindsight, so even though there's a lot of action in the book (chase scenes, drunken ne'er-do-wells, shotguns, even some swordplay) the overall effect is reflective: the rawness and tension fades somewhat. The opening chapter is a little misleading -- I almost didn't get past the horrific accident with a factory saw that sets the stage for the years-later factory bombing.

There's a nicely done subplot about women's rights and domestic violence that, while is kind of obvious, is also essential to Andy's coming-of-age that summer. The book has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird (which I think is a bit of a stretch) and Stand By Me (the movie from Stephen King's story "The Body," which feels closer). I'd also put it in with Jim the Boy and Dandelion Wine. And something about the cave explorations and escape, and the brutish father of Andy's crush, echo stories of another pair of rural adventurers, Tom & Huck from Missouri.

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