April 27, 2006


The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips. By Michael Morpurgo. Scholastic. $15.99.

Geronimo. By Joseph Bruchac. Scholastic. $16.99.

     War is the backdrop for both these books – war, and its effects on the individuals caught up in its currents.  The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, for ages 7-10, is set in England in 1943, right in the midst of World War II.  But that war has barely touched the novel’s protagonist, Lily Tregenza, who lives on a  farm in a lovely seaside village.  That is, she lives there until she and 3,000 other villagers are ordered to leave their homes so the army can use the village and its surroundings as a practice and staging area for what will become the D Day invasion of France on June 6, 1944.

     Michael Morpurgo is realistic in writing a book in which the heroine cares little for the grand events of the day – only for how they affect her.  She cares even more how they affect her cat, Adolphus Tips.  For the cat, of course, is not concerned about or stopped by barbed wire and warning signs, and continues its wandering ways into areas now deemed off limits.  After the cat disappears into the forbidden area, Lily makes friends with two stereotypical (and rather stereotyped) American soldiers, Adie and Harry, who promise to help her find Tips.  The result is a mostly predictable but generally sensitive portrayal of a young, naïve girl coming face to face with people unlike any she has ever known, and a world beyond anything she has ever experienced.  Yes, this is a coming-of-age novel, one among innumerable others, but it has some surprising twists, especially an unusually heartwarming one at the end.  Tips is the thread that knits everything together, partly because – it spoils nothing to reveal this – the cat is a female despite its name.  The novel is affecting, even moving, although it suffers from plot clichés and a style that is nothing special.  Despite the war setting, it is not a war novel, and is likely to appeal less to boys than to girls.

     Geronimo is not a war novel, either; it is more of a post-war novel.  It is aimed at older readers – ages 12 and up – and is a piece of historical fiction, in which an aged Geronimo looks back at his life and ahead to his people’s future.  Joseph Bruchac’s technique has some parallels with Michael Morpurgo’s, but Bruchac is a more facile writer: fewer seams show.  Unfortunately, Bruchac’s narrative style, though it nicely emulates the reminiscences of an aged warrior long past his final battles, may be a bit much for readers in the target age range: “When the train pulled up to the station, I spotted two familiar faces looking out at us through the windows.  It was Daklugie and the son of Mangus, who later became known as Frank Mangus.  Frank was the grandson of Mangas [sic] Coloridas.  His father, whose name was Mangus, was the leader of the last band of free Chiricahuas.”  And so on.  Bruchac obviously feels considerable empathy for Geronimo, but the feeling all too often comes through in a typecasting of the nobility of Geronimo’s people and the unpleasantness, if not out-and-out evil, of the white man.  The story is set in 1908, a year before Geronimo’s real-world death (he was born in 1829).  The novel offers a sweeping history of America’s westward expansion in the 19th century.  But it has more a feeling of memoir than of adventure, with a quiet sensitivity at the core that may reflect Geronimo accurately but may make the book rather plodding for its intended audience.

No comments:

Post a Comment