Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Madman of Piney Woods (2014)

The Madman of Piney Woods. Christopher Paul Curtis. 2014. Scholastic. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

In Christopher Paul Curtis' latest novel, readers meet two young boys, one white (Irish), one black. One boy, Benji Alston dreams of being a reporter. He wants to be a great reporter, to write compelling stories. All of his chapters contain one or more of his imagined headlines. The other boy, Alvin "Red" Stockard, dreams of a better home life. You see, Red lives with his father and grandmother, his maternal grandmother. And she can be a bit too much to take. He doesn't even know if it is possible to be on her good side! She seems to always, always be after him about something. And it gets physical. His father is sympathetic, but, kind-hearted. How can he throw his mother-in-law out of his house? Even if she does get her cane after his son? Even if he disagrees with her on most things most of the time? These two boys live in different towns. But Benji's new apprentice-type job as a reporter for a newspaper brings him to Chatham regularly. And once these two boys meet, well, they become close friends.

For better or worse, this book isn't so much about WHAT happens as it is about characters and setting and atmosphere. If you happen to like or love Red and Benji, then you're in for a treat. The two alternate chapters. It isn't easy to summarize what happens and what the book is about. You can summarize a chapter here and there, but, it doesn't really do the book justice.

The Madman of Piney Woods is set in Buxton, Canada--the same locale as his earlier novel Elijah of Buxton. The Madman of Piney Woods, however, is set forty years after the events of Elijah of Buxton. It introduces readers to a new generation of residents. (I do not believe it is essential to have read Elijah of Buxton in order to enjoy The Madman of Piney Woods. I don't. I think Elijah of Buxton is a wonderful novel, and, personally I enjoyed it more than The Madman of Piney Woods. But The Madman of Piney Woods is great all on its own.)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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