Tag Archives: Mississippi River

Arrowood

arrowood

Title:  Arrowood
Author:  Laura McHugh
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-8129-9639-5

Book Summary:
In 1994, eight-year-old Arden Arrowood played with her twin 20-month-old sisters, Tabitha and Violet on a hot, September Labor Day afternoon on the grounds of the family home of Arrowood.  The twins argued over a lone dandelion and Arden quickly went around the house to gather more.  When she returned, she saw her sisters in the back of a gold car driving away.  Since their disappearance, Arden’s parents divorced, her mother remarried and moved away, and her grandparents died.  Now, a history student trying to finish her master’s thesis, Arden returns home to Keokuk, Iowa.  Following her father’s death, she learns that the family estate of Arrowood has been left to her.

Much in the town of Keokuk has changed in the years Arden had been away.  Homes are in disrepair or completely uninhabited, the A&W is closed, and the Kmart is now an Assembly of God.  Fallen on hard times, the town personifies Arden’s own crumbling life.

As Arden wanders through her new, old home, memories of times, both good and bad, fill her thoughts and haunt her nights.  When Josh Kyle, a writer and researcher for Midwest Mysteries, asks to speak with her about the twin’s disappearance, she is skeptical.  Josh begins to unravel many of the tangled stories and perceptions and Arden starts to question her own memories.  As she reaches out to past neighbors and family members, she discovers secrets that her eight-year-old self would never have known.  It becomes apparent that the facts of the disappearance aren’t as clear as they once seemed.

But Arden suffers from her own anxiety and confusion; her abrupt departure from her school in Colorado proves the fragile state of her own mind.  What of her memories can she trust; what of her current observations can she believe; what secrets does she know?

Book Commentary:
Wow!  Psychological thriller at its best!  This was a very griping story.  Normally, I avoid books about child disappearances; as a mother, they make me very uncomfortable and they rarely end well.  This story attracted me because of the setting of Keokuk, Iowa, which is right along the Mississippi River.  The references to Midwestern life – the feel of nagging river gnats, the heaviness of the humid late-summer air, the familiarity of Kmart and A&W – reminded me of my own childhood, not far from the Mississippi on the Illinois side.  It was the setting that implored me to take a chance with the story.

I am glad that I did.  What a complex tale that wasn’t so much about the children’s disappearance, but rather the manipulative power of memory and suggestion.  At one point, I truly thought that Arden might be insane and the story was a fabrication of her mind.  I was very ambivalent towards Arden’s character and didn’t always feel that I could trust her.  I think the author’s presentation of the character created a sense of uncertainty in the readers’ minds which only added to the suspense.  The reader is forced to question not only Arden’s believability but also whether or not the reader himself can trust his own memory.

Who might like this book:   
I’ll be honest that I am not sure if I actually liked the book but it was very intriguing and I was compelled to finish it.  When I completed the last page and closed the book, it made me question my own memories of childhood.  I think this would be a fascinating book to discuss in a group.  My oldest daughter is taking AP Psychology and I would love to hear her thoughts.  Definitely a book that makes you go “hmmm.”

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The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

Title: The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher
Author: Jessica Lawson
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: 2015
ISBN: 978-4814-0153-1

Book Summary:

So . . . what if Tom Sawyer wasn’t the real culprit in all his adventures. What if, instead, Becky Thatcher was the mastermind? That is the premise of The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. Becky and her parents have recently moved to St. Petersburg, Missouri to start a new life. Her brother Jon died a year ago; her mother has become sullen and introverted and her father, Judge Thatcher, is busy at the courthouse. Becky fills her time exploring and trying to live up to the promise she made to her brother to have adventures.

Unfortunately for Becky, there are a lot of things that interfere with her attempted exploits. First, she has to go to school and her teacher, Mr. Dobbins, is mean and steals her cookies. Next, she has to convince Sid that she is worthy enough to participate in the witchy bet: to steal something from the town witch, Widow Douglas. Daddy’s watch, Old Reliable, always seems to tell when she has been sneaking out late at night. The Pritchard boys, wanted for train robbery, bank robbery, and murder, are on the run and headed her way. And finally, that dumb wimp Tom Sawyer seems to be putting his nose into everything.

Luckily for Becky, her new friend Amy is willing to stand by her and face whatever dangers might lie ahead. And Sam Clemens, a curious writer who is waiting for the next steamboat, also shares some good advice and wisdom. With any luck, Becky and her friends will be able to conquer the heroic feats that would make her brother proud.

Book Commentary:
What a fun book! Although it is written for middle school aged kids, any fan of Mark Twain will enjoy it. The story moves quickly and presents different explanations for events and characters in the original Tom Sawyer book, including the character of Huck Finn and the premise for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” The author does a nice job at keeping just the right amount of references to the original while still telling a truly unique tale. As a younger reader, I was always jealous of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn’s adventures. Poor Becky had to sit and wait at home in her starched petticoats while the boys traveled down the river. Now it is Becky’s turn to save the day.

Who might like this book:
Switching back to my old teacher mode, I would love to teach this book in conjunction with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The two books presented together do a great job at showing students how perspective and point-of-view can completely change a story. What great parallels and contrasts could be discussed! The book even includes some discussion questions to get you started. This would be a perfect novel for a middle grade book club as well. Even if you haven’t read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the book is fun and enjoyable for all ages.