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Children’s Fiction of 2007: Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Posted by Sherry on 11/15/2007 in Children's Fiction, Cybil Awards, General, Poets and poetry |

Another free verse novel. I liked the story, again, and this time I was able to get used to the line breaks much more quickly. (See my review of Home of the Brave for thoughts on my preference for prose in a novel.) Reaching for Sun is sort of one long metaphor in whch the main character, Josie, is a flower (a wisteria vine?) that’s been trapped in darkness, but is now reaching for the sun. Josie’s “darkness” is a set of rather formidable challenges: cerebral palsy, a mom who’s too busy with school and work, absent-tee dad who deserted the family long ago, total rejection from the kids at school who think she’s stupid, too much therapy and not enough downtime. Then there are Josie’s mom’s expections; she wants Josie to become a lawyer or an astronaut, but Josie’s not really interested in any of the high-powered careers that her mom has picked out for her.

But Mom’s dreams for me
are a heavy wool coat I
wear, even in summer.”

The entire book reads like that little word picture. As I noted in my interview with author J.B. Cheaney the other day, I wish I could write metaphors and similes like that one. I tend to think in cliches.

Josie makes a mistake in the course of the story by dealing with some of her problems by lying. She and her mom become estranged because in order to do what she wants to do and start to grow up, Josie lies to her mom instead of confronting the disagreement between the two of them and discussing it. The author does a very good job of showing how destructive lies can be, and still she also demonstrates that forgiveness and reconciliation are possible.

She pulls me to her
and I feel that old kudzu vine
ripped away between us
and the truth
like sun on my face.”

There are lots of little things to like about this little book. There’s a little flip-book picture of a flower bud turning into a fullgrown flower drawn in gray pencil-like sketches in the lower right hand corner of the pages. Josie’s grandma and her friend, Jordan, are both great characters, slightly eccentric, but not so odd that readers would reject them. Good use of language. Good story of a girl’s thirteenth year of growing and becoming a young lady under less than optimal circumstances.

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s website.

Other bloggers weigh in:

Little Willow:Reaching for Sun is a verse novel told from Josie’s point of view. Though Josie sometimes has difficulties expressing herself and speaking her thoughts, her voice on the page is full of strength.”

Cynsations interview with Tracey Vaughn Zimmer: Ms. Zimmer says: “I’d like to be a Poetry Preacher–I truly believe it can transform children’s reading skills (fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) but even better than all that it grabs the hand of its reader and changes the way we see the world.”

MotherReader: “So today I sat outside in the sun, to read it surrounded by the daffodils, the crocuses, and that yellow flowering bush… thing. And if you can, that’s the way you want to read this book, with beauty all around you and beauty on the pages in front of you.”

A Fuse #8 Production: “The verse novel still has to justify its own existence with every book that uses its style. When you pick up a work of fiction written in verse you have to ask yourself, ‘Would this title be stronger or weaker if it were just straight prose?’ Zimmer’s advantage is that Josie lives a life that’s best suited for poetry.”

OMS Book Blog: “This brand new book written in free verse tells about the growing and blossoming of a seventh grade girl named Josie.”

I think that last sentence about sums it up. If you like “growing and blossoming” books written in free verse, this one is for you.

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