Friday, March 15, 2013

Full Circle: The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

This wish has her thinking about things... This wish and being around Nero.

Once, Ruby remembers, Nero even questioned Mr. Cipielewski about a circle being 360 degrees.

Mr. Cipielewski taught them about degrees in math. A triangle had 90 degrees. A circle has 360 degrees.

"What," Nero had asked, "if you only have 359 degrees?"

"Then you do not have a circle," said Mr. Cipieleski.

"What do you have?"

"Nothing," said Mr. Cipielski. "Nothing we have a name for."

Since her Grandmother Gigi's death, Ruby Pepperdine's life has felt as if it is spinning off center, her circle broken, missing that final degree that keeps it turning in balance.

Circles are on Ruby's mind, as the yearly Bunning Day festival approaches, celebrating Captain Bunning's creation of the doughnut-with-a-hole, in which, according to town lore, the skipper had invented, cramming his wife's famous doughnut balls onto the spokes of his helm wheel, sustained for hours by those donuts as he fought a gale that threatened to take them all to the bottom of the sea. Ruby has been selected the Bunning Day speaker, chosen to read her winning essay at the end of the parade, standing in a circle drawn in the center of the street, the center of everyone's attention.

On her birthday Ruby had made a wish, supposedly sure to come true, by tossing a quarter through the hole of the donut held by the heroic-sized bronze statue of the Captain himself, but Ruby cannot see how she can help this wish come true, even if she reads her essay perfectly.

"Listen!" Gigi had said to her just before she died. "Listen..." she had gasped. And then, after a silence, "It's all coming together...."

Her mom had rushed her off to catch the school bus, assuring Ruby that she would take care of her grandmother, before Gigi could tell her what to listen for, what the coming together meant, and Ruby keeps coming back to that, wishing she could go back to that moment, to listen and make it all right.

Everyone else seems to have gone back to their lives, as if Gigi had never lived, as if her dying had not left a hole, a broken circle in their lives. Only her classmate Nero seems to understand why she is Googling the word torus at the library:

"Did you know that a donut is not a circle?" Ruby says quickly. "It's torus. Like an inner tube.

Ruby has read what came up about the torus. She doesn't really understand the physics talk, but she can't escape the feeling that a personal meaning is hiding inside the concept.

"Tori--that's the plural of torus--they're..." What were they? "They are unchanged by homeomorphisms, such as bending or stretching."

"Homeomorphisms...." said Nero.

"Such as bending or stretching.... Would you want to travel back in time? ... back in your own past?" she asked Nero.

Linda Urban's The Center of Everything (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) tackles the questions at the center of life--and death--how to deal with the hole left behind when someone is taken out of our family circle, how the balance is reestablished, and the broken circle rejoined, all in an everyday setting of a small town celebration of donuts and local history.

"In the beginning was the donut. At first the donut was without form..." Urban begins her story. How she makes the humble donut the literary lietmotif of this coming-of-age story, seriously but with humor, allows this novel and the theme it explores to be easily accessible to middle readers. What the takeaway from this story may be will depend on what the reader brings to it in the way of such experiences. Dealing with situations such as a loss which threatens family and personal equilibrium is hard work for us all and for any author, and Ruby Pepperdine is a worthy character who takes on this task for all readers. "A poignant, finely wrought exploration of grief," says Kirkus, giving Urban's novel a starred review.

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