Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Recommendation & Giveaway! ELI THE GOOD by Silas House

What were you like as a child?  I'd like to think I'm now pretty similar to the person I used to be, but of course I can't be sure--memories are constantly being recreated and there's no telling how many Whiny Baby Janet memories I've blocked out in favor of the ones wherein I'm being smart and charming.

As a kid, I spent hours of every day outside.  My sister, neighbors, and I had every square foot of our wooded neighborhood memorized by heart.  We knew all the secret passages, all the best climbing trees, all the best places to play in the creek without chancing a spill into the creek--because of course a stumble into the water would mean wet pants, a dead giveaway to our mothers that we were, once again, playing in the forbidden stream.  (Sorry, Mom--but I'm sure you knew we played back there, right?)

It seems that many older (e.g., non-kids) folks have been complaining over the years about how The Kids These Days don't spend enough time outside.  They're overbooked with piano lessons, baseball practice, church groups, and video games.  Maybe that's true for lots of kids, but I happen to know several awesome children who still explore their yards and play pretend.

At the SIBA trade show a few weeks back, I attended an author luncheon.  While I ate a lunch of boiled vegetables smothered in 2" of cheese, I listened to some formidable authors speak about their work and read excerpts of their writing.  Though all four authors' books sounded intriguing, I could tell immediately that Silas House's Eli the Good would mean something special to me.  House spoke of the ways in which he revered the environment around him as a child, of the ways in which he felt he communicated with the trees and nature in a way that most children do not these days.  This was the kind of kid I was, scrambling up the magnolia tree in our front yard so I could stare at the patterns in the bark and maybe even read my latest Sweet Valley Twins installment.  I thought nothing of spending hours on end outside, peeing in the woods when I needed to rather than having to go back indoors.

In Eli the Good, we meet a quiet, introspective boy (Eli) who's slowly waking up to the idea that the romanticized view he had of his life might not be entirely accurate.  His best friend is the vivacious Edie, a girl who lives next door and who's tougher than any of the boys in the neighborhood (but who, of course, has some soft spots, too).  Eli's marked with a fierce love for his family, even when he can't firmly grasp why his dad gets so violent and why his mom always sticks up for him, what his beloved Aunt Nell and protective older sister Josie are whispering about in the dark.  As the story moves along, we watch Eli grow more mature, opening himself up to some of the profund sadness, beauty, and pleasure of the world.  Like many gifted children, Eli seems hypersensitive to sensory experiences and emotional interactions with people, even when he's not quite able to verbalize what he's feeling.  Silas House is adept at his characterizations, especially as he shows us Eli growing less sheltered but more mature by the day.

In the midst of Eli's love affair with trees and the outdoors, we have the oft violent presence of his Vietnam War veteran father, who is struggling with post traumatic stress disorder and can't quite figure out how to get help--or if he wants to get help at all.  I learned a lot about the effects of war on family life by reading Eli the Good; in fact, the war itself is an ominous, forever-lurking character in the book, always waiting around the corner to pounce on an otherwise peaceful moment.  Eli lives with the pressure of dealing with the war every day, never knowing when it will thunder down and disrupt the peace he's trying so hard to cultivate.  I imagine that veterans and their kids might do well to read this book.

All that being said, Eli the Good is neither a scary book about an abused family nor an idyllic description of growing up a weird, woodsy kid.  Eli's age and intelligence are clear to the reader; he's never imbued with an overly mature point of view (as many "kids" in young adult literature tend to be, thereby giving away the fact that the writer is, in fact, old and wise, looking back on his or her life).

 Silas House speaks at SIBA trade show

I really encourage you to buy a copy of Eli the Good to read it for yourself.  I also encourage you to try to win an advanced readers copy of the book that I have to give away, courtesy of Candlewick Press.  To enter this contest, please use the comments field below to share what book reminds you of your childhood.  Is it a book you read as a child?  One you read as an adult that reminded you of your childhood, as Eli the Good did with me?  If you feel uncomfortable leaving your full name in the comments field, please just make an anonymous comment and then email me to let me know which entry was yours. 

Congratulations to Barbara, who's won a copy of the book! Barbara, please email me at avid[dot]athens[at]gmail[dot]com with your mailing address so I can get the book out to you.  


Teresa Kravtin said...

Were you at SIBA?? And if so, why didn't I get to meet you??

I LOVE Eli the Good and Silas is wonderful. I recommend this to anyone who loves lyrical writing and a tenderly poignant portrayal of a boy loving and trying to understand his family.

Paula Rauscher said...

I read your description of this book and am intrigued. The first book I thought about (that I read as an adult) was "The Secret Garden" - I picked it up one evening when my own children were little and read it straight through, ending at about 2 a.m. (with no concerns about how I would function the next day!) I can't say that I had anything in common with Mary Lennox, at least on a superficial level ... I was not an orphan, I did not have wealthy parents and was not spoiled (!), was not "sour-faced" ..... yet something about her resonated deeply with me. Now you have made me wonder about exactly what that was and I probably will be awake tonight pondering that!!

Kimberly Pennell said...

I don't think that the book has been written yet that describes my childhood! Maybe I need to write it.

I would like to win the book

Barbara said...

Sheeesh, I immediatly think of all the books I read as a child, including the standard kids books by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Ann M. Martin (Baby-Sitter's Club). However, a particular Cleary book stands out, as I was told that I looked like her on the cover: Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I also felt like I could relate to Ramona, who was trying to relate in a world that was just out of her little-kid reach. Insert the older sister (check!), and you've got my world entangled with hers!

Another book that stands out is The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. That book had me searching for secret portals for YEARS! I loved the idea of escaping into this fantasyland, where animals could not only talk, but also ruled the kingdom. I could never look at animals, lions in particular, quite the same way again!

Honestly, my list could go on and on, including From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Franweiler. But I will spare the further details. Let's just say, the idea of running away to a museam sounded rather exciting after reading this one...

I've yet to find a book that tells the tail of a loud, short girl, thus describing my childhood. Perhaps a new book will soon be in the making. If I get it out, Janet, would you promise to carry it in your store? ;o)

Mary Carol said...

I like the comments so far. Barbara, I especially enjoyed yours---since I am someone who was acquainted with you when you WERE a little girl.

Melanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Avid Bookshop said...

Great feedback, everyone! I'm happy to inadvertently get more book recommendations from you while also learning a little more about you. Thanks for sharing. It seems Melanie and others are seeing yet again how reading and talking about books can really help you understand yourself better.

Winner will be chosen Monday, Oct. 19.

Julie said...

Dear Janet,
I loved your review of Eli the Good, and especially your comments about your childhood memories (many of which I share, of course). I also enjoyed your readers' comments. I'm not sure if there is a particular book that reminds me of my childhood, but You Shouldn't Have to Say Goodbye, by Patricia Hermes, is one that I truly loved and read many times. Similar to what Mrs. Raucher said about her book and main character, the narrator of You Shouldn't Have to Say Goodbye really resonated with me. The book is about a 13-yr-old girl whose mother has incurable cancer. Although my mother was sick often when I was a child, she did not have an incurable disease, so luckily I can't say that is something I had in common with the narrator. Anyway, I remember this book to be an honest portrayal of loving bonds within a family, and of course the pain and grief the family endures.

Avid Bookshop said...

Barbara has won this copy of Silas House's book, ELI THE GOOD. Congratulations! I really want to thank everyone for some meaningful, thoughtful feedback on this entry. I hope you'll enter future giveaway contests in the days and years to come. Wish I had copies of the book for all of you.