________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009

cover A Piece of Forever. (Streetlights).

Laurel Dee Gugler.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2008.
164 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55277-026-9.

Subject Heading:
Mennonites-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Betty Klassen.

**** /4


Sandra stops walking. "Come on," I say, pretending I'm not scared. We walk up to the group. I sit on the steps. Sandra stays standing. Ignoring my hammering heart, I say, "My papa worked in soil conservation. He figured out stuff like what grasses to plant so soil wouldn't wash away and "

"Soil conservation?" sneers Judy. "My papa was fighting in the front lines, while your papa ..." She grins a nasty grin. "... was playing in the dirt."

Some of the kids laugh.

"Playing around in the dirt," repeats Judy. "Maybe he made some mud pies along with the macaroni necklaces at that stupid camp."

Some kids start to holler out stuff.

"He sure didn't have to risk his life like my papa."

I hate this, hate this, hate this! Why couldn't Papa have fought forest fires or driven an ambulance or something? I can't think of what to say, and Sandra is sure no help. She is just staring at the ground. And Cindy! She isn't yelling nasty stuff, but she isn't sticking up for me either. Last year she would have.

A small Kansas town, an elementary school and a mixed farm provide the 1956 setting for Rose as she grapples with some serious issues and decisions. Rose is almost 11, a young Mennonite girl who lives with her mother, father and five-year-old brother, Daniel, on their farm. Rose's father is concerned and loving while her mother always seems to be angry at someone: Rose as she calls her to do her chores, Papa for sleeping in church, and Daniel for asking questions. The novel opens with Rose helping her brother Daniel bury a dead bird. She very patiently explains things to him which makes her late for school and that tardiness, in turn, means she needs to face her stern teacher, Mr. Foster.

     Rose is a quiet introspective girl who has depended on her friend Cindy to "run interference for her" and stand up for her at school. When the topic of study becomes World War II, Rose has difficulty with an assignment that asks her to write a letter to a veteran. She wonders how she can do this when she has been taught to believe that war is wrong and that our goal should be to live peacefully in the world. So, while other students are discussing the heroic deeds of their fathers and uncles, Rose is left to wish her own father would have been a hero instead of a conscientious objector. Rose doesn't know how to respond went the kids taunt her and call her father a coward. Rose loses Cindy's friendship as she is influenced by her father who says, "folks like her [Rose] should be run out of the country."

     This leaves Rose with one friend, Sandra, who is also a Mennonite. Sandra is very shy and still wears conservative long dresses to school. Because Rose has convinced her mother that it is not lady-like to play sports in a dress, she is allowed to wear jeans to school.

     Rose enjoys reading about Laura in Little House on the Prairie and Anne in Anne of Green Gables. She tries to be spunky like them and receives assistance from her Aunt Bette who is not as conservative a Mennonite as Rose's parents. She wears a bright orange hat to church and goes to the theatre and movies in MacPherson City and Wichita. Her aunt is a mentor to Rose, encouraging her to talk about what is confusing her. She wisely convinces Rose's and Sandra's parents that they should allow the girls to spend the night with her so she would take them to the library to help them with their research on a school project. The headline "Statue Erected for12-year-old in Hiroshima" catches Rose's eye, giving her an idea for a current events project that also relates to the effects of the war. The more Rose learns about Hitler and the war, and about innocent people in Japan, like Sadako, dying, the more confused she becomes. The world is not as black and white as her parents have tried to portray it to her. She wonders if maybe it is okay to sometimes fight a war.

     Learning about Sadako helps Rose write her letter to the veteran soldier, Mr. Lambert. Rose tells him she is confused about war, and she also tells him about Sadako. She is overjoyed when Mr. Lambert writes his reply, stating that he will come to the Veterans' Day Assembly, and he writes that he is confused about war also. The conflict between Rose and the other students in school rises further when Judy's father, who fought in the more recent Korean War, commits suicide by shooting himself. Gugler effectively relates the inner struggles Rose is facing as she tries to understand the huge sacrifice Judy's family has made, while also trying to live bravely and peacefully to find a way to make a difference in the world.

     Presenting their project to the students and involving them all in making cranes like Sadako starts to bring the students together. Rose asks Mr. Foster if they can give out cranes at the Veterans' Assembly and if she can say something. Mr. Foster says, "One sentence, just to explain the cranes." The assembly is the climax of the story, bringing the community to a decision of whether or not to let Rose continue to speak and to accept or reject her offer of a crane.

     A Piece of Forever is a sequel to Catching Forever, and readers can continue to experience Rose's dilemmas with her, to watch her grow and grapple with how to live out her beliefs as a Mennonite in a school and community that thinks differently. Gugler uses the title A Piece of Forever as a recurring phrase that focuses Rose's thinking as she is trying to understand people's various positions on war.

Highly Recommended.

Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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