Book Reviews

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Aunt Polly

For a brief shining moment in the spring of 1969, I was Aunt Polly. The 8th grade class of St. Peter’s enacted a little play based on some scenes from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We all got to choose parts, and I petitioned long and hard (it seemed so, for there was heavy resistance) for the part of Aunt Polly.

Who in their right mind would want to be Aunt Polly, you might ask, and me a boy as well?

But I looked on it as a challenge – could I, a 12 year old boy, bring off this crotchety old maid? I felt I was up to the challenge. Besides, I had the outfit already. On the Halloween prior, I decided that I wasn’t going to get dressed up in any of the more typical outfits – superheroes, skeletons, ghosts, the characters in the YMCA song – no, I was going to paint Dorchester, MA, red as an old woman.

And so, when it was announced that we were going to perform some scenes based on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I figured, “I got the outfit, I’m gonna play the part of Aunt Polly.” As it turned out, I had no such aunt, and my mother had nothing about Aunt Polly about her, but Sr. Joseph Helen, our 8th grade teacher, known to all the students as “Jake” had a lot of Aunt Polly about her, and so I modeled myself on “Jake” and tried to channel Aunt Polly, with a little Jonathan Winters’ Maude Frickert thrown in.

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth book cover

In The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, Alexandra Robbins recounts the lives of six high school students and one new teacher. It's hard to decide which one of the students I grew most fond of: Danielle, the loner; Noah, the band geek; Eli, the nerd; Joy, the new girl; Blue, the gamer; Whitney, the “popular bitch;” or Regan, the weird girl.

Each one, in his or her own way, is a smart and creative individual. With passion for their interests and strong inner feelings, these seven individuals have much to offer.

But in spite of, or maybe because of their talents and individualism, they exist in the “cafeteria fringe.” Even Whitney, who is part of the in-crowd, feels that she has to continually prove herself and fights daily to keep her spot in the party car.

At times I was shocked at the cruelty with which kids treat each other. For years, shy and quiet Danielle has yearned for friendship only to be continually rebuffed. Having just about given up, she is begged by several kids to join a club. Danielle is hesitant, but could not say no to what she thought was a gesture of friendship. Only after she joins is she informed that it's a "hate Danielle" club. She is duped into becoming a member of a club formed to hate her.

One of my favorite quotes is: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That statement from Faulkner’s 1951 novel, Requiem for a Nun, could be said of all of Faulkner’s writing, and for Absalom, Absalom! (1936) especially.

Oh, Tom Sawyer! Rascal, liar, ladies-boy, wicked heathen … be still my heart. I can still remember my very first encounter with Tom – from my much loved collection of Great Illustrated Classics (my first personal library, maybe?).

I can still picture the cover – Tom strolling regally down the road, barefooted, fishing pole in hand, behind the gingham-clad, blushing Becky Thatcher, steamboat in the background.

Nothing may have influenced my childhood more than the time spent poring over Tom’s adventures. It may even be the first chapter book I put my mind to. Well, that, or The Baby-sitters Club.

Still. Tom and Becky, Injun Joe, Amy Lawrence, Huck, Aunt Polly – from childhood, my conception of classic Americana owes a great debt to these characters. Every woman in a high collar and bun could be a Polly; every straw-hatted little boy becomes Tom. They inform my perception of everything from the idea of running away from home to roadside attractions (for who but a Tom-like character could conceive of charging $13.50 a carload to see giant cement busts of presidents?).

Having lived in the midwest for more than 10 years, I haven’t given much thought to our country’s borders or the people who reside near them. DiAnn Mills’ new suspense fiction, Sworn to Protect, gives an interesting look into the southernmost areas of the U.S. and the profession that works to keep the borders safe.

Set in McAllen, Texas, this page-turner opens with a dangerous operation that takes place near the Rio Grande, a river that serves as the Mexico-United States border. While on duty preventing illegal human and drug trafficking, U.S. Border Patrol agent Danika Morales recalls a dreadful event that happened two years ago: her husband, Toby, was murdered, and his body was left beside an obscure road. The crime went unresolved.

The unseen offender is now stalking her, aiming to end her life and destroy her family. As a single mother, Danika is concerned about her deaf little girl, Tiana, and Tiana’s nanny and family’s housekeeper, Sandra Rodriguez.

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