Tuesday, August 17, 2010

If Wishes Were Lobsters: Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

Wishes are slippery things. You have to be very specific or you can get exactly what you wished for and still end up with nothing.

Tess Brooks has a whole collection of lucky pieces she packs in her pocket when she really needs to see her wishes come true, but Tess is a hard-headed island girl, daughter of a lobster fisherman, and she believes in doing whatever it takes to give good luck a nudge.

When the state of Maine threatens to close her island school because of its low student population, Tess, who fears moving from her beloved home and changing to a strange mainland school, is all behind her neighbors' plan to take in foster children to pad their count. When her family is assigned a 13-year-old boy who has been abandoned by his mother, left behind when his grandmother dies, and moved through several temporary placements, Tess knows that she's going to need all the luck she can get, and she believes she's found it in a beautiful piece of blue sea glass she finds as she waits for Aaron's arrival on the ferry.

But Aaron is not all she had wished for. As orphans go, as Tess puts it, she had hoped for a boy Anne of Green Gables and gotten a boy Great Gilly Hopkins. Aaron is depressed, uncommunicative, and makes no secret of the fact that he wishes he were back on the mainland where he could play his trumpet with his local jazz band. But Tess throws all her energy into making Aaron happy with her family, knowing that keeping him home with them is her way to hold on to her own island home.

Despite their initial conflict, Tess hits on a plan to make Aaron's music an entry into island life. Tess skillfully approaches an older neighbor who has been critical of the newcomer:

"Hi, Mrs. Varnay." I brush the paint dust off my clothes as I'm walking. "Isn't it great how Aaron plays the trumpet?"

"Oh, yes!" Mrs. Varnay replies, pulling out her knitting needles. "I feel lucky to hear such fine music from my front porch. The boy plays like an angel!"

"It's a shame the whole island hasn't had a chance to hear Aaron," I say. "And the trumpet is especially good for patriotic songs. Exciting marching music, like we might hear at Memorial Day or the Fourth of July picnic."

"There's nothing like a trumpet for patriotic songs," Mrs. Varnay agrees. "Where's my cell phone?" As she hunts through her basket, I back away, smiling.

My work is done.

With Mrs. Varnay behind the arrangements, Aaron's beautiful performance at the picnic on the Fourth is an island sensation, giving Tess has another brilliant idea. Knowing that Aaron longs to see his mother, forbidden to contact him by Child Welfare, Tess quietly writes to her, suggesting that she come as an incognito tourist to the annual island talent show to hear her son play. If Aaron can have hope of an occasional visit with his mom, Tess reasons, he'll be satisfied to stay with Tess's family until she is able to take him back.

But her scheme doesn't quite go as planned, and Tess learns that there is much more to good outcomes than making lucky wishes. Cynthia Lord's just published Touch Blue (Scholastic Press, 2010) is a wonderfully crafted novel, weaving a strong sense of place into a universal human story in this insightful tale of two young people both looking to hold onto what they love most in their lives. But we can't always control what happens in life despite our best efforts, Tess' father tells her:

"Will she take him away from us?" I asked.

"I don't know. We don't get to decide that," Dad says. "But we'll all go on, whatever comes. Sometimes you have to quit trying to control everything and let life happen the way it's supposed to, Tess. Even if it's not exactly the way you wanted."

"You and Aaron both have to let go of thinking 'I can only be happy if....' and find a way to carry your happiness inside you. We're all more than where we came from, Tess."
Cynthia Lord's previous book, Rules, was a recipient of the Newbery Honor Award and the Michigan Library Association's Mitten Award, an NCTE Notable Book and ALA Notable Book award, and her first novel has been nominated for dozens of state Children's Choice awards since its publication. In her newest, Lord shows that she continues to create honest and sensitive realistic fiction for middle readers.

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  • This looks to be an excellent story, helping young readers to discover that life has inevitable ups and downs and how we deal with them is perhaps the greater lesson.

    By Anonymous Bedbug, at 7:52 PM  

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