Thursday, April 29, 2010

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth, by Lynne Rae Perkins

Small problem with our new weekly structure: it meant we had to wait (picture three turtles bouncing up and down in anticipation) until today to review this one!

Perkins (Newbery winner for Criss-Cross) has another award-winner on her hands! We weren't sure what to expect from the cover and title, and the ARC (provided by publisher) didn't have a jacket description. We try not to read the promotional blurbs until after the book, so we sort of delved in blindly. And started alternately laughing and groaning almost immediately!

Ry is having a Judith Viorst kind of day (you know; terrible, horrible, no good, very bad...). He is on a train headed towards camp, while his parents are on their way to the Bahamas for a loosely structured vacation. He remembers a last-minute letter from the camp (they had been peppering him with daily missives like, "don't forget your sunscreen") that he had jammed in his backpack, and pulls it out to read. In brief: camp has been cancelled. Don't come. Oops!

Of course, he can't get cell service on the train to call either his parents' cell, or his grandfather, who is house/dogsitting for them (in the house and town they just moved into). Fortunately, the train has to stop in the middle of nowhere for repairs, which will take at least 45 minutes. Plenty of time for Ry to slip off the train, hike up a nearby hill, and see if he can get a few bars, right? Right? Darn those quick mechanics.

Within a few pages, Ry is stranded in the desert with a black eye, numerous scratches, a useless cell phone, about $80, and only one shoe. The phone thing doesn't really matter anyway, since his parents' cell phone has been stolen by a monkey, and his grandfather bonked his head while walking the dogs and is wandering around with short-term amnesia, in the town Ry's family just moved to, while the dogs take off on their own cross-country trip. Just a little bit of bad luck there. Then he meets Del, and his luck begins to change - or does it? It's a little hard to tell in places, but sometimes you just have to let things happen and trust them to fall into place eventually. Or not. Well, if nothing else, you can at least enjoy the ride!

There are so many great lines we want to quote. Anyone who came within range while we were reading it was hit with, "Wait, you have to let me read this part to you." A few that are within pages of each other:

"Ry glanced back at the truck as they headed down the shoulder of the road. It seemed at home there in the timeless earthy expanse. It blended right in. It looked like it was planning to stay. Marry a local rock and put down roots. By the time they got back there would probably be young tumbleweds nesting and mating in the cab." (pg 103)
Quite a feat to use words like "timeless earthy expanse" and be so funny in the same breath.

"The sediment of dirt deposited evenly across the windshield, punctuated by the dried fluids of unfortunate insects, glowed incandescent in the sunlight. It was like trying to see through dandelion fluff." (pg. 107-8)
Great description! Here's another:

"Del's face did its trick where without actually moving any of its parts, you could tell he was smiling. You could tell he was amused. If you want to see how this is done, watch an old Clint Eastwood movie." (pg. 165)
And one more:

" 'So, do you really have errands between Montana and Wisconsin?' he asked Del. Because looking around, he couldn't think what anyone would do here. No offense to North Dakota, but it was pretty subtle so far." (pg. 130)
Having trouble getting your students to stop using boring adjectives, like...well, "boring"? What better example than the North Dakota line! (Note: quotes and page numbers are from the ARC, and may differ slightly in the final version.)

And then there are the characters. Del is the kind of free spirit (and ninja cowboy repairman) we wish we could be. Carl, the semi-blind probable car thief with the two-minute memory span and no feeling below his knees...well, you just have to admire his joie d'vive! Some characters appear for only short bits, while others reappear periodically. All are memorable, as is this book!

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth released two days ago, so run right out to your local library and check it out - and if it isn't there yet, stand on the counter and refuse to leave until they order and/or finish processing it! Better yet, order your own copy by clicking on the picture link. That way you can underline your favorite parts and dog-ear it all you want, and we will get a small portion of the proceeds for our library.

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