Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Death and traveling ~ theme of two novels

Whirligig ~ by Paul Fleischman, 1998, YA fiction

Brent, a high school boy who feels humiliated by a girl at a party, tries to end it all in a car crash and, instead, ends up killing Lea, an innocent teenage girl. Lea's mother sets him on what seems to me a "hero's journey" by asking him to create four whirligigs from a picture of Lea and set them up at the four corners of the United States. Off he goes with an unlimited bus ticket and a backpack full of wood and tools. I especially loved this fantastic image:
He tried out the words in his head: "I'm a traveling whirligig maker." It was an interim identity, tied to his previous life. He would cast it off soon, but in favor of what? He was lodged in his own chrysalis but had no idea what he was turning into" (p. 43).
The exceptional images of this novel for young adults (YA) will stay with me. Brent travels alone, having to spend time with his thoughts, very aware of his guilty feelings about taking the life of another teenager. During the time it takes to ride north, east, south, and west across the country, Brent matures noticeably. I highly recommend the book, both for YAs and for adults, who are more aware that one slip in judgment can make a life-changing difference in the lives of all sorts of people, not just within the circle of friends and family.

Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral ~ by Kris Radish, 2006, fiction

Just as Brent's journey starts after the death of Lea, Annie G. Freeman's death initiates a journey for a select group of her friends -- because Annie, a free spirit, planned something audacious even as she was dying of cancer. The story begins when the doorbell rings just when Katherine has discovered her favorite bra is disintegrating, and a UPS woman delivers a box Katherine isn't expecting. It's a shoe box with Annie's ashes in a red high-topped sneaker. Along with the box are instructions for Katherine and several other of Annie's women friends. Her idea of scattering ashes sends them on a tour to various places, thus a "traveling funeral."

While reading this book, I asked myself, if I were planning my own traveling funeral, which friends would I choose and where would I want them to go together? Annie had to supply airline tickets for her friends to travel all over the place, but my friends could mostly get by with "traveling" around my town -- even if I sent them to Atlanta or Knoxville or Nashville, all three are within a couple of hours of Chattanooga -- and because I'm so open about sharing, I can't think of any "untold chapters" my friends would need to discover. Following Annie's friends was lots of fun, however.

I highly recommend both of these books, giving each of them a rating of 9 out of 10, excellent reading.


Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Bonnie thanks for letting me know about your review. I too really loved the concept of the funeral and celebrating a life with your closest friends. I had the same thoughts you did... how would I go about doing this... I have friends who would love it!
The thing that bothered me about the book was that some parts were just too unreal for me... some of the expenses laid out by Annie, I would think - she has two sons, did she leave them an inheritance. They never really explained how she came about all the money.... any way.... that's really my only issue with the book. :)

Whirligig sounds good and I have not heard of that one before! :)

Bonnie Jacobs said...

If anyone wants to read Sheila's review of Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral (plus more than two dozen comments by Sheila's readers), here's where you should go:

Sheila, these two books are very different, but the fact that each journey was launched by a character's death tied them together for me. Thanks for visiting. Maybe you noticed I have added your link to the blogs on my sidebar that I regularly visit.

Emily said...

I would have liked to travel wtih Brent into new areas while creating art that other people enjoyed after he left.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Hi, Emily. I enjoyed spending time with you last week. Thanks for helping me find a home for all those books.