I would like to think that I would have enjoyed Frances O'Roark Dowell's book, Chicken Boy, even if it wasn't set in North Carolina.
But it sure helped to be able to picture the rural farm areas around the triangle region of North Carolina that are slowly being gobbled up by suburban development. Fifteen years ago I visited a goat farm in Durham that no longer exists.
But I digress.
Like North Carolina itself, the author skillfully intertwines modern people and places with Southern folk and settings.
Tobin Mccauley, the 12-year-old protagonist, is a lonely outcast in 7th grade. His mother has been dead five years and no one in his dysfunctional family ever talks about her. Tobin longs to live in a "normal" home--one where his father talks to him and his family does more than eat together in front of the television. His best friend is his wacky Granny, who loves trucks, fishing, and her privacy; but who is also grieving the loss of her daughter.
Into this picture walks a new boy in school. Henry not only befriends Tobin, but encourages him to join him in his chicken-raising venture--despite the fact that Tobin hates chickens ever since watching Granny ring one's neck with her bare hands.
Through Henry's friendly perseverance, Tobin sheds his skin of his old self, discovers he likes chickens, realizes that he has athletic and academic abilities, and begins to have friends at school. Henry is a powerful secondary character who comes alongside of Tobin, accepts him for who he was, and nudges him out of isolation.
I also loved Granny. Since I listened to this book on CD, I can't quote any of her lines, but trust me, she is a Southern Toyota-truck-fixing character you won't forget. Other secondary characters including Tobin's foster parents, school teacher, social workers, and family therapist are also skillfully portrayed.
O'Roark Dowell created original, quirky characters that stick in the reader's mind. Do you know a grandmother who drives up on the sidewalk in front of her grandson's middle school? Or a boy who wants to prove that chickens have souls? Or a 7th-grader who notices his teacher smells like lemons and likes to sniff the oil and grease on a tool? These people were real.
Vivid details bring Chicken Boy's characters to life. As I move into my next round of revision of Half-Truths, I want to bring more depth to my characters. In order to do that, I've decided to use my daybook to start recording random characteristics of people I meet and know.
Watch out. You know that quirky jerk of your head or the way you fling your hands out when you talk? You never know. I might just be watching...and taking notes about you.
AND...Frances O'Roark Dowell is donating either a copy of this book or audio book to one lucky reader! Leave me a comment by the evening of July 27th (with your email address if you are new to this blog) and you might win!
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