The Returning

The Returning by Christine Hinwood is a very unorganized book.  I’m still in shock after reading it that it was on the Printz Honors List.  The writing isn’t bad. In fact it’s easy to get lost in the book and devour a hundred pages at a time.  Yet, as the book progresses there is a sense that there’s no point to the book.  Things happen and there’s no rhyme or reason.

ReturningSo what’s the premise of this tome? Cam decides to leave home at a young age and join the war against the Uplanders.  I should mention that this novel is set a Middle Ages-esque time period and the Uplanders and the Downlanders are enemies. The Uplanders, lead by Lord Ryuu, have decided to make a foray into Downlander territory and stake a claim.  So Cam goes off to fight, gets his arm hacked off by Gyaar Ryuu, Lord Ryuu’s son and is sent packing, with a horse, back to his village.  He’s not content to live in his provincial village (I can’t help but think of the opening song in Beauty and the Beast) and decides to go back to the Ryuu family and join their ranks.

Why does he go back?  This isn’t given.  There’s no explanation as to why he feels more comfortable in the north rather than at home.  Granted, you could read into this from a psychological stand point and see it as a Stockholm Syndrome type thing.  Then there’s a very homoerotic element that runs throughout the book, but it’s not developed enough to be a firm explanation for the “returning”.

So all in all, I feel the reader is left with more questions than answers.  It feels like there needs to be a sequel just to explain the first.  If this were one of my students’ essays, I’d give them a D and ask them to address the questions that are left in the reader’s mind.

But at the same time I can’t believe how well Hinwood wrote all of this confusion.  Even while there’s no point to it, she does build an interesting world and introduce us to her characters.  So I’m giving her the D, and hoping she’ll write an amazing sequel so that I can give her an A in Cannonball Read 7.

Jasper Jones

Interestingly, Jasper Jones is the first book by an Australian author that I have read.  The funny part is, I had no idea Craig Silvey was from Australia.  As I cracked the book open, I noticed that some of the words  were odd.  And the dialect of the characters didn’t look phonetically like anything from the U.S.  So finding out he was Australian made a lot of sense.  Once I established the language bit, I appreciated the story and the setting.  The only exception was his description of the cricket games.  I have no idea what a tackler, bowler, wicket, and crease all have to do with cricket.  But I guess that’s what many countries think about American football.

Back to the book, Silvey drafts a story that is universal; it’s set in Australia but relatable to all of us.  Jasper Jones is the outcast of the small, rural town.  It’s not by choice but by situation.  His mother died when he was an infant and his father is a drunk.  Being beaten at home and having to scrounge his food makes him a pariah of the community.  When he finds himself in trouble, he turns to Charles (Charlie to his friends), who is the egghead of the high school.  Charlie has his own drama with a reserved father and an aggressive mother who wishes she were living somewhere else.

Together, the two of them attempt to figure the trouble they encounter and, while making teenage mistakes along the way, they learn that they need each other and the help of others who are involved in the ordeal.  Really it boils down to the idea that no man is an island.  And while Jasper’s and Charlie’s destinies aren’t on the same path, they learn a lot about life and friendship over their intense summer.

Silvey does aJasper Jonesn incredible job developing his characters and brilliantly painting the small town life.  He has a way of drawing me in and showing me rather than telling me what life is like.  I feel more like I’m watching a movie rather than reading.  My one critique is that I wish he would have been more clear on his ending and wrapped up some of the other plot points.  He touches on the racism towards Vietnamese Australians during the Vietnam, but doesn’t really flesh it out.  Granted, it is a sub plot, but I like depth rather than breadth when it comes to plot.  And I feel like there’s more to the story than we are shown, but maybe that’s what will get me to reread the book some day.

All in all is a great, universal story about love, loss, and growing up that extends to all of us from the Land Down Under.