Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Did You Ever Have to Really Decide? The Moon Over High Street by Natalie Babbitt

This is Joe Casimir's story. But if you're going to understand what happened when he got on a bus and came down southwest across the state to visit a town called Midville, you have to know about Mr. Boulderwall.

Twelve-year-old Joe is technically an orphan, but he's always lived with Gran, ever since his parents died right after he was born, so she's always been his family.

But when Gran's broken hip takes her out of commission during rehab, Joe learns that he has other family, a second-cousin, "Aunt" Myra whom he dimly remembers visiting once as a small child and Gran sends him off to spend the summer in Midville with Myra until she's well enough to make the six-hour drive to pick him up.

Joe find life in Midville unexpectedly soothing. Aunt Myra, on summer vacation from her teaching job, turns out to be easy-going and loving, a kindred spirit, and Joe is befriended by Beatrice, a neighbor girl his age who introduces him to the slow and easy life in the 1960s small town.

But when Beatrice takes him on a bike tour of town, one of the places she takes him is High Street, a place that makes an unexpected impression upon Joe:

Midville's best street was High Street. It was up on a hill. Not much of a hill, to tell the truth, but in that part of the state, hills are not to be taken for granted. Everything on High Street was big, especially the trees.
And the biggest, grandest house on High Street is Anson Boulderwall's. Anson is the inventor and owner of the Swervit Corporation, which makes an indispensable automobile part that has made its maker a very rich man. And when Beatrice's large, enthusiastic dog Rover dashes into Mr. Boulderwall's yard, the two embarrassed kids go after him, only to find him happily sharing a cinnamon roll beside the pool with none other than Mr. Anson Boulderwall, who receives the kids jovially and seems suddenly and strangely interested in Joe Casimir.

Not long afterward, Mr. Boulderwall makes Joe an offer that is hard to refuse. Anson Boulderwall has no heir to take over his company, and his offer is to adopt Joe, send him to the best prep schools and colleges and in time install him as the next president of Swervit. Joe, Aunt Myra, and Gran are at first unbelieving and then incredulous at this strange proposition. Neither Gran nor Aunt Myra want to lose Joe to the Boulderwall family, but they realize that he is offering their boy a fine education, success, and wealth beyond their dreams. At last it comes down to Joe to decide. Should he give up his unformed but real dreams of becoming an astronomer, with all the uncertainties in achieving that hope, for a life of certain riches and power?

Natalie Babbitt, whose award-winning and notable books written over decades include the still best-selling Tuck Everlasting, has in her latest, The Moon Over High Street, (Scholastic Press, 2012), a gentle and telling tale of personal choice and responsibility. Babbitt's lauded storytelling skills are in full evidence here, with well-developed, diverse, and engaging characters that make the story's premise of the importance of choosing your own way believable within a soft, almost dreamlike setting in which Joe's love of the moon becomes the central symbol. "A congenial, cheerful tale with an important message. Babbitt may reach a new generation of readers with this satisfying work," reports Kirkus Reviews.

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