Monday, August 20, 2012

Journey, by Patricia MacLachlan

If the author's name rings a bell, it's likely because it is she who wrote Sarah, Plain and Tall. Journey is one of twenty-one stories which have been penned by Mrs. MacLachlan and is the second that I've read of hers aside from the Sarah, Plain and Tall books. (I read Baby also. Linked to my ever-so-brief thoughts on it.)

I recently picked up a copy of Journey at a local used bookstore and looked forward to reading it. Upon finishing Bleak House (Yes! I did it!) I reached for the shortest, easy-to-read book I could find and Journey was at the top of my pile! A quick 83-page book, sweet and simple story and about 40 minutes of my time (max) re-convinced me that I am a fast reader and can get through books, provided that they are not 820 pages, of course.

Journey, like MacLachland's other books, are written with a younger audience in mind than myself. Apparently the author lost both of her parents at a young age and in her adult life (married with three children of her own) she began writing articles on adoption and foster mothers. She once noted the following:

"It was clear to me that much of the focus of my writing was sharpened by my involvement and concern for families and children. This interest, coupled with my commitment to children's literature, provided the basis for my decision to write for children--something I had always wanted to do."

Her works of fiction are geared towards children. Amazon lists Journey as being appropriate for kindergarten readers on up and while that may be (sadly) true in today's society, I think I would suggest this to ages 8 or 9 on up. The topic of Journey is much like that of Baby - child abandonment. In this book we meet Journey, an eleven year old boy who lives with his grandparents and his sister, Cat, after their mother leaves them. The book opens with his mother making her goodbyes and the rest of the book deals with Journey's adjustment to his new life situation.

While this topic is dark and somewhat hard to take, just like I mentioned when discussing Baby, MacLachlan handles the topic beautifully. She is sensitive and real, I think, without allowing any of her characters to fall into a pit of self pity and stay there. In the case of this particular book, Journey's grandfather plays a major role in helping his grandson adjust to life without his mother by taking pictures and building a new history and a new memories for the young boy. It is very clear that Journey's grandfather suffers from his own wounds but he is aware of the fact that life is going to go on and that they need to find ways to be happy and pursue life despite the dramatic and awful situation that the family is facing.

MacLachlan, in my opinion, has a perfectly charming way of writing. I laughed outloud in several spots as her characters conversed with one another. Here are some examples of the dialogue which she engaged her characters in:

Journey's sister Cat undergoes her own transformation after her mother abandons her, but her reaction is more to throw herself into life and hard work than introspection. Cat is the original owner of the camera that Grandfather eventually takes possession of and puts back into use.

Cat gave him the camera in one of her fits of cleanliness.
"I've given up the camera," she yelled, her head underneath the bed, unearthing her life. "I've given up the flute and most everything else. Including meat,"she said pointedly. "I have spent the entire afternoon looking into the eyes of a cow, and have become a vegetarian."
"Which cow?" asked my grandmother, not kidding.

Grandfather seems to always and forever be taking pictures of his little family. This both amuses and annoys Grandma, Cat and Journey. (Mostly, it annoys Journey until he discovers the beauty of photography.) The family was loading up in the car to go to town.

He makes Grandma come out of the house to pretend she is going to town too.
"Get a hat, Lottie, he calls to her.
Grandma puts on her straw hat with the cloth strawberries and grumbles all the way down the path to the car.
"Look fetching, Lottie," he tells Grandma as he leans down to peer through the camera.
"I'm not an actress, Marcus," says Grandma sharply. "I am a hot, old woman."
"You are a fetching old, hold woman," says Grandfather, making Grandma laugh.

The entire plot of the book revolves around family photographs - ones that once existed and the ones which are being created as the story moves along. Being a wedding photographer, I naturally connected to the discussion of the importance of photos. As MacLachlan makes a point of saying through her characters, photographs reveal truths to us - things that are in the moment and sometimes things which are going on behind-the-scenes. Photographs - good ones - evoke emotions. They remind us who we are, who we've been and where we are going. They preserve memories of good times and bad ones and so I liked the emphasis on the importance of family photos.

All in all, I'd say that Journey was a beautiful story and I enjoyed it very much. It was also a perfect read post-Bleak House. Heh. I needed something short and snappy and this provided all that I asked of it. Furthermore, it was fun to become a little bit more familiar with MacLachlan herself. If you are interested, here is a list of book titles written by her (as obtained through the ever helpful Wikipedia):

  • Sarah, Plain and Tall (April 1985)
  • Skylark (March 1994)
  • Caleb's Story (October 2001)
  • More Perfect Than the Moon (2004)
  • Grandfather's Dance (2006)
  • Through Grandpa's Eyes (March 1980)
  • Mama One Mama Two (1982)
  • Tomorrow's Wizard (1982)
  • Cassie Binegar (October 1982)
  • Seven Kisses in the Row (March 1983)
  • Unclaimed Treasure (July 1987)
  • Arthur, For the Very First Time (October 1987)
  • The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt (July 1988)
  • Journey (September 1991)
  • Three Names (September 1991)
  • Baby (October 1993)
  • All the Places to Love (May 1994)
  • What You Know First (September 1995)
  • The Sick Day (April 2001)
  • Edward's Eyes (August 2007)
  • True Gift: A Christmas Story (October 2009)


Annette Whipple said...

We have Caleb's Story and Sarah.

Yesterday, having finished Betsy-Tacy and Tib, and trying to encourage my daughter to read something different, we explored a few other titles to read next...including Sarah. :)

Barbara H. said...

I don't know why it never occurred to em to read Sarah, Plain and Tall. I loved the film with Glenn Close.

This sounds neat, Love Grandpa's bantering with Grandma.

Sometimes a smaller book is just what is needed after a long one.

wxroz said...

A friend of mine got me all of the Sarah Plain and Tall series; I love the first one, but haven't read the rest. I didn't realize MacLachlan had written so many other books, but now I have even more to put on my "to read" list!

Wow, you finished Bleak House really quickly! Will we see a review soon? :)

BerlinerinPoet said...

Thanks for this! I LOVED Sarah Plain and Tall when I was younger, but until recently I hadn't even thought to see if she had any other books.

Stephanie Kay said...

Sounds like a wonderful book. I love the photography theme, since I am constantly taking pics of my kids. Do you think this would be appropriate for a 9 yr old boy with advanced reading skills? I'm thinking over my kids' reading lists for this fall and this sounds good for my oldest.

Carrie said...

@Stephanie's Mommy Brain - Yes! I think it would be a good read for him. Certainly appropriate at that point.

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