Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Preacher's Boy (1999)

Preacher's Boy. Katherine Paterson. 1999/2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Is the end near?! That's the question Robbie Hewitt faces in Katherine Paterson's Preacher's Boy. The year is 1899. The novel follows the troubles of one mischievous boy, our narrator, Robbie. Well, what can one say about him? If you've read Tom Sawyer, you know EXACTLY what kind of boy he is. He's always getting IN and OUT of trouble. Since it seems impossible to stay mad at him, I suppose, you could call him charming too. How much trouble can a boy get into in one year?! Quite a bit.

Robbie likes pranks, and this book tells about several of them. Readers know what to expect from Robbie from the very start:
"On Decoration Day, while everyone else in town was at the cemetery decorating the graves of our Glorious War Dead, Willie Beaner and me, Robert Burns Hewitt, took Mabel Cramm's bloomers and run them up the flagpole in front of the town hall. That was the beginning of all my troubles. It wasn't that we got caught. In fact, I've often thought since that would have been the best thing in the world." 
One of the stories in this novel is that Robbie becomes worried about "the end of the world." He isn't worried about where he'll end up. He's not sure there is a heaven or a hell. But. He is worried about missing out on LIFE. He makes a list of ALL the things he wants to do BEFORE THE END. It's a dreamer's list, in many ways, but that is part of the charm. For example, he knows it would be RIDICULOUS to write down OWN AN AUTOMOBILE. But he can't stop himself from writing down RIDING IN AN AUTOMOBILE.

This one has some interesting characters. I wouldn't ever say this one lacks plot, and by "plot" I mean ACTION. But to me the charm of this one is in the characters themselves. I liked Robbie. I liked seeing Robbie struggle. I liked seeing tension in his relationship with Elliot, his older brother with special needs. Robbie LOVES his brother, but, he doesn't always LIKE him. He struggles with his place in the family. It isn't just that his father is the preacher and EVERYONE in town watches him and judges him. It is that he feels out of sorts in his family. He feels Elliot gets all the attention, all the love and support. I thought most of Robbie's family was well-drawn. I liked getting to know Robbie, his dad, and Elliot. (I can't say that his mother and sisters came into the story much.) Robbie was also challenged a bit when he met a strange-but-bossy girl with problems of her own.

I liked the setting. I liked the writing. I liked the characters. Overall, I'd definitely recommend this historical coming-of-age novel.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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