Slayton, Fran Cannon. 2009. When The Whistle Blows. 176 pages.
Everytime I go to jump on a steam train as it chugs its way through Rowlesburg--
Everytime I throw out my hands to grab the rusty metal rungs and haul myself up onto the side of one of them black coal cars, hoisting my knees up over its churning, screeching wheels--
Every single time I jump on a train--my heart thumps even noisier in my ears than the clanking of the old iron horse I'm hopping up onto. I love steam trains. I love living in a town that's chock-full of 'em. I love being on 'em, being anywhere near 'em. They're as much a part of my life around here as the mountains. Or breathing.
When the Whistle Blows is a lovely little book--more a collection of short stories than a traditional novel--weaving together a family story that is authentic and memorable. Set in Rowlesburg, Virginia, in the 1940s, the tales center on the Cannon family, particularly on Jimmy Cannon who is our narrator. Through seven stories--all set on All Hallow's Eve: 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949--we meet the family. We feel the tensions and struggles. Tension between brothers. Struggles between a father and son trying to understand one another. It's a story of friendship. It's a story of family. It's a story about growing up and growing wise. It's a story with a lot of gumption and charisma. With words like "lovely" and "heartfelt" it's tricky to convey how boyish this book is (pranks and football and so much more). It's a story about boys being boys (both friends and brothers) and having adventures. In particular a story about a boy trying to become a good man. Here's how Diane Chen describes it for SLJ,
"Rituals at midnight. Launching cabbages at the enemy. Eerie cemetery scenes. Death. Humor. Families joining together to thwart the tyrants in charge. The joys of living in the Appalachians especially hunting, swimming, and being outdoors. Looming changes hanging over your head as you are growing up."
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews