Friday Five: What I Love about Linda Urban’s HOUND DOG TRUE
Quick note: If you’re interested in guest-blogging here about your critiquing experience, or your thoughts on critique groups, check out my earlier post here. It’s kind of like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me…: You win for yourself AND another person. Okay, it’s not Carl Kasell’s voice on your answering machine, but it is a copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide!
And, now, on to the Friday Five!
And I’m telling you right now, if you want to read a book that is middle-grade fiction, go pick this one up. It hits all the marks–a wonderful, young hero who does not have the control/impact over her own life that a young-adult her would, but who still struggles to make the changes she needs to see happen. For today’s Friday Five, I’m doing a numbered “review” of all the things that really hit home for me about this story.
1. I love Uncle Potluck. First of all, how can you not be intrigued by someone called that, and Uncle Potluck lives up to all the humor you’d expect from hjis name. But, because Urban knows what she’s doing, he’s so much more than comic relief. He becomes Mattie’s shelter and safe place, one with just the right kind of support from which a person can push themselves out into the world to deal with things.
2. I love Mattie ‘s notebooks. So many of us writers use the convention of a journal or diary, and so many times it falls flat. Not here. Along with, again, the humor of watching how Mattie records her janitorial notes, Urban gives us a full sense of the need and hope that Mattie gives those notes, that she gives the notebook itself. She writes these things down, because she believes they will give her a way out of a situation she dreads. From Mattie ‘s point of view, she has to get everything just right. And Urban makes us feel that desperation.
3. I love Quincy Sweet ‘s Aunt Crystal. Okay, I love Crystal, too, but it’s a Friday Five. Crystal isn’t very likeable as a person–she makes Quincy’s life too difficult for that, but, as a character? Oh, yes, I love her. Because she is exactly right. She is so absolutely different from her Quincey, and she is trying so hard to change that niece into something closer to herself. Yes, she has good intentions; yes, it’s the only way she can see to be a good aunt, we still cringe and wince every single time she talks about the girl Quincy could be. Ouch.
4. I love the tin-can telephone through the ceiling. (If you want details, go read the book!). It is such a great carry-over from Mattie’s mom’s own childhood, something so perfect for her to try and bring into the “now” with her daughter. This telephone doesn’t work any better, technically, than the ones we all tried as kids, but the clunkiness and the continued attempts to make the connection more clear are just wonderful metaphors for the better place that Mattie and her mom are headed together. And it takes a lot for me to like a metaphor.
5. I love–and this is the big one–the way Urban so “gets” Mattie’s shyness. She absolutely understands the push-pull for the child who really, really wants to be part of “it,” whatever that it is that the other kids all belong to. It’s not a club, it’s not a social group–it’s just an ability to walk into a new situation, any situation, and have the right words, the right attitude. Oh, heck, the right anything. Mattie’s attempts to figure out words ahead of time, to picture what she might do when the time comes to do something, so resonated with me. As did the pain of all those plans, all that imagination, turning on Mattie, showing her instead all the things that she could possibly do wrong.
I was that kid. I recognized my child-self in Mattie, and I so wanted to reach out to both the character and to myself and distribute huge hugs. Hound Dog True is a wonderful story, but the real happiness I’m taking away with it is the thought of other kids, finding this book today, and not only seeing themselves in it, but also–more importantly–seeing the possibilities for hope and friendship that Mattie offers them.
Thank you, Linda.