Saturday, August 09, 2008

Steinbeck's Ghost

Buzbee, Lewis. 2008. Steinbeck's Ghost. (September 2008 release).
"Finally. He finally found the word he had been looking for.
The moment Travis Williams stepped out of his house into the warm September afternoon, the word came to him. For months, ever since he and his parents had moved into the new house, he'd been trying to figure out what was so creepy about this place. Now he knew.
He stepped off the porch into the bright sunshine and whispered the word.
A Wrinkle in Time was one of Travis's favorite books. He'd first borrowed it from the library a couple of years ago, when he was eleven, and had probably borrowed it three times since, read it he didn't know how many times. Whenever he thought of the book, he pictured the planet Camazotz.
On Camazotz, everything was perfect. Every house was exactly like every other house, every lawn like all the rest. Every garden grew the same kind of flower, and the exact same number of those flowers. Everyone in Camazotz dressed like everyone else, and they all did the same things and at the same times. One child played ball in front of each house, and each ball bounced to the same beat.
Camazotz was supposed to be a perfect planet. And in a way, Travis thought, it was perfect. Perfectly creepy.
Bella Linda Terrace was supposed to be perfect, too." (1-2)
For anyone who loves to read books about people who love books, Steinbeck's Ghost is the novel for you. Travis Williams loves to read, and he loves his library. When he hears the news that his library, the John Steinbeck library, is closing, he's shocked and disappointed and angry. Luckily, this news effects many people the exact same way. And fortunately, these people--from the elderly to the teens--is willing to put their time, money, and energy into saving it. Set in California, set in Salinas, our narrator, Travis, is fascinated with John Steinbeck. Loves his work. Got a few favorites among his novels, but has a familiarity with the world Steinbeck created. When this fictional world starts coming to life right before his eyes, Travis is both amazed and hesitant. Is he going crazy? Did he saw what he thought he saw? Can other people see these things as well? Travis isn't going crazy--at least we're led to believe that he's not going crazy--and soon Travis and a few select friends are following the trail, following the voices, the messages, that are leading them to discover the story that Steinbeck never wrote. Books. Libraries. Community activism. Friendship. Family. This one has a little bit of everything.
"Every book he recognized opened up the world of that book to him. These weren't stacks of paper bound together with glue or string--they weren't items or products. Every book was an entire universe." (26)

"Reading a library book wasn't something you did on your own. It was something you shared with everyone who had ever read that book. You read the book in private, yes, but other hands had been on it, had softened its pages and loosened its spine. With hardcovers, the clear shiny Bro-Dart, put on to protect the dust jacket, quickly got scuffed and crinkly, and sometimes you'd find a thumbprint pressed into the plastic.
The book, when you were done with it, went back to the library, and from there to other hands. When you read a library book, you were connected to all these strangers." (56)

"When you read, the world really did change. He understood this now. You saw parts of the world you never knew existed. Books were in the world; the world was in books." (89)
Yes, the book has its strange moments. Moments when he's being "haunted" (or prompted) by Steinbeck's fictional characters. But the book is just as much about Travis discovering himself as it is about him discovering the world of books and also discovering the world around him. There is a certain authenticity captured in the pages of this book.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


debrasbaker said...

What would you guess would be the age level that would most enjoy this book? I teach Of Mice and Men to eighth graders and it sounds like it might be a fun companion. Any thoughts on the book as a read aloud?

Becky said...


Yes. It would definitely be appropriate/good for eighth graders. The narrator is 13, and there's nothing in it that would make it be more suitable for older readers. I haven't read it aloud, obviously, but I think it might be something that would work as a read aloud. You'll just have to read it yourself and see how you find the writing. If there is an interest in Steinbeck, then I think it will have definite appeal. Even if there isn't an interest in Steinbeck in particular, for those that love books, that love libraries, that love the experience of has a good amount of appeal. That doesn't mean it is a perfect book.

Unknown said...

This book sounds fascinating to me! The last book I read about a boy who loved reading was The Book of Lost Things, which I didn't end up caring for. It was a little scary/creepy for me. Yet it had a similar theme of finding yourself as this seems to have. I'll have to try it out!

Unknown said...

This book sounds right up my alley! I loved A Wrinkle in Time as well. I love to read books about characters who love to read books!

Kim L said...

What an interesting book! I'll have to check this one out. And I'm glad to hear blogger is working again for you. How frustrating!

Anonymous said...

What an interesting book! I'll have to check this one out. And I'm glad to hear blogger is working again for you. How frustrating!

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Anonymous said...

i finished it last night amazing book!