Grades 5 - 8 / Ages 10 - 13.
Grades 5 - 8 / Ages 10 - 13.
According to my research, the streets are the only place the poor can go. The poor, Mom. More than anybody else, that's who's out there. And being poor doesn't mean they're into drugs or crime. It means they can't find work. It means they're sick. It means they have no one to take care of them. It means they're hungry. The streets are all they have.
When I started this report I wondered how people ended up on the street. I thought they were probably just too lazy to work. But that can't be right, because the people on the streets have to work all the time just to stay alive. You know where they live? In bug-infested apartments, maybe - if they're lucky enough to be on welfare. In abandoned cars, tents, cardboard boxes that fridges come in. The rest have to settle for even less--a bus shelter or a piece of sidewalk near a heating vent.
Butcher's first novel focuses attention on the plight of the homeless as it traces 12-year old Nick Battle's experiences. When Mom and Cole Armstrong, her new husband, tell Nick she is pregnant, he reacts by running away. In full flight, he collides with Luther, one of Andersonville's homeless. That night Nick shelters in the deserted McIntyre mansion only to discover that it is Luther's base. When the police arrive the next morning, Nick surrenders quietly to avoid revealing Luther's presence.
At home Nick reluctantly tries to get along with Mom and Cole. At school Nick decides to focus on the homeless for a research project after spending several Saturdays with Luther and becoming increasingly intrigued by his mixture of gruffness, intelligence, and humour. Mom, however, refuses to allow Nick to do in-person-on-the-street research, only relenting when Cole volunteers to accompany Nick. Most of the street people refuse to speak with Nick, with the exception of a pathetic but frightening old man who threatens Nick and forces him to flee.
Becoming obsessed with finding out more about Luther, Nick snoops in Luther's belongings and uncovers some personal information. Only when Nick and Mom sort through some of Nick's books and toys does he realize that "Luther the bum" is actually Luther St. Cyr, one of Nick's favorite children's authors who fled his identity after a tragic accident that claimed his wife and son. Nick's confronting Luther with his discovery precipitates Luther's running away. Happily, with Cole's help and Luther's change of heart, Nick's world settles back to normal.
Butcher has presented a likable set of characters in this first novel. The dialogue between Nick and Luther is especially well-developed and effective. The plot moves along smoothly and briskly. Nick's "battles" with Cole's presence in his life, with Mom's pregnancy, and with his growing awareness of social issues, like homelessness, are resolved and everyone, we assume, lives happily ever after. Lurking beneath the surface of this coming of age story, however, are questions about the perils of running away, the harsh realities of life on the streets, and the emotional pain of adjusting to family changes.
Darleen Golke is a teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
The Manitoba Library Association
TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - October 31, 1997.
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