Absolutely normal chaos

Sharon Creech

Book - 1990

Thirteen-year-old Mary Lou grows up considerably during the summer while learning about romance, homesickness, death, and her cousin's search for his biological father.

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New York : HarperCollins Publishers c1990.
Physical Description
230 p.
Main Author
Sharon Creech (-)
Review by Booklist Review

Gr. 5-8. Mary Lou Finney is an absolutely normal 13-year-old living in a delightfully normal--albeit rather large--family during an absurdly normal summer of growing up. The assignment to keep a journal during this summer vacation allows Mary Lou the privilege of documenting for other absolutely normal middle-graders the roller coaster process of adolescence--the evolution of friendships, the first kiss, even the gradual understanding and appreciation of people different from themselves. Creech's easy style and skill at writing dialogue are evident throughout. Some of the journal entries concerning Mary Lou's interpretation of her summer reading assignment, The Odyssey, may be a stretch for many in the targeted age group, but the chaotic adolescent emotions emanating from each entry are real. Absolutely Normal Chaos is absolutely normal 13-year-old angst and will probably have a much wider readership than Walk Two Moons (1994). (Reviewed Oct. 1, 1995)0060269898Frances Bradburn

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In what by now must be a subgenre in YA fiction-the novel cast as a journal written for an English assignment-Newbery Medalist Creech (Walk Two Moons) spins an affable if formulaic tale about one pivotal summer. Narrator Mary Lou, 13, the second of the five Finney children, is quite put out when she has to play maid for her uncommunicative cousin Carl Ray, 17, who comes to stay while he looks for a job. He gets one, to Mary Lou's surprise, at the hardware store owned by their new neighbor Mr. Furtz, who shortly afterward dies of a heart attack. Not only does Carl Ray remain in his new job, but an anonymous benefactor leaves him money-just like in Great Expectations, as Mary Lou points out. There the resemblance to Dickens ends: the astute reader will early on figure out the mystery behind Carl Ray's inheritance. Mary Lou is also slow to pick up clues about why her cute classmate Alex is always hanging around. Despite the occasionally creaky plot, Mary Lou's bouncy entries are still a lot of fun. Readers will enjoy her wry commentary on The Odyssey (on the school reading list), and girls especially will identify with Mary Lou's disgust at the giddy behavior of boy-crazy best friend Beth Ann and her own giggly rhapsodies on her first romance (``I am sooooo happeeeeee I can hardly stand it!''). Ages 10-14. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-9-By Sharon Creech. A journal kept by 13-year-old Mary Lou starts as a boring school project, but becomes a record of the most exciting summer of her life. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Horn Book Review

From the very first page of this intriguing novel, twelve-year-old Hero makes clear the distinction between real life and true life, the latter being the life of the imagination and the one that has the greater hold on her. A middle child in a family of child prodigies, she has not spoken for several years. She seems to live on the periphery of her family, observing but rarely participating in the daily interactions between her mother, a famous child psychologist, educator, and writer; her father, who performs the domestic duties; her older brother and sister, who have lived and suffered in the spotlight of early achievements; and a younger sister who cultivates the dictionary as a gardener does a vegetable patch. Hero has, apparently, elected to be speechless in a family of articulate geniuses as a way of establishing her own unique identity. But her "true" life revolves around the activities at a stately old house in her neighborhood. Hero has taken to scaling its garden walls by climbing some overhanging tree limbs and observing from her arboreal perch eccentric old Miss Credence feeding the birds in the garden below. The day she falls from a tree and lands at the woman's feet begins a perilous journey for the young protagonist. Miss Credence hires her to tend the garden, and as she follows Hero around at her duties, making progressively odder demands, Hero begins to realize that the woman is truly mad, but she cannot tear herself away. In the end she is drawn into a tower room where she discovers a hidden daughter that the woman has kept from the world for years. When her life becomes endangered, Hero uses her wits - and her voice - to save herself. As she did in Dangerous Spaces (Viking), Mahy explores the ways in which an interior life can take hold of a person, and the dangers that can arise when the lines between the real and the imaginary become blurred. Here again she rescues her heroine just in time, creating an exciting adventure story in the process. n.v. Martha Moore Under the Mermaid Angel Thirteen-year-old Jesse finds life pretty boring until Roxanne moves into the trailer next door. There is nothing much to do in Ida, Texas, except visit Mr. Arthur's wax museum with its two-headed chicken, a collection of baseball caps cut out of construction paper, and the main attraction, a replica of the Last Supper presided over by a mermaid angel. Jesse's mother is not thrilled about her daughter's friendship with a grown woman, particularly one who has the Liberty Bell tattooed on her chest, but Roxanne, who understands that "friendship is measured by heart-time, not clock-time," knows what really matters. Together, they watch for meteor showers. They help Mr. Arthur, who has Alzheimer's, finish cutting out his baseball caps. Roxanne even shows Jesse the human side of Franklin Harris, the biggest jerk in the eighth grade. Most important, Roxanne is the one person Jesse can talk to about her baby brother who died six years ago. The characters are a refreshing and original bunch: Debbie Bartacelli, the new girl in school, has a disfigured face and a towering intellect matched only by her cool self-assurance. Jesse's redoubtable five-year-old sister, Doris Ray, is a thorn in her side most of the time, but unhesitatingly loyal in emergencies. With its saucy first-person narrative and irresistible plot, the book will jump off the shelves. Winner of the Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel, it heralds the arrival of an exciting new talent. n.v. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Ice Unable to come to terms with her father's desertion, Chrissa has barely spoken to her mother, Lorraine, since she entered junior high school. In desperation, Lorraine sends her to stay with her grandmother for a year, and Chrissa doesn't argue, hoping secretly that she can coax her father's whereabouts out of Gram. Once ensconced in the dilapidated old house at the edge of the woods, however, Chrissa finds other matters coming to the fore, chief among them the hold that Sister Harmony, a faith healer, seems to have over her grandmother. The rotund, sanctimonious woman and her seedy nephew frequently enter the house unannounced and have apparently been given sizable sums of money by Gram, who can ill afford it. When Chrissa discovers that her grandmother is planning to deed her woodlands to Sister Harmony, she is even more determined to find her father. Now that she is living in his boyhood home, hints about the man she barely knew begin to mount up, though Chrissa is not always open to the evidence around her. A mild romantic interest in the boy who lives on the adjacent farm and a harrowing episode with the deranged father of two children that she is baby-sitting fill out the narrative; the latter incident offers edge-of-the-seat excitement as Chrissa musters her resources to outwit the man and rescue herself and her charges. Naylor's deft use of foreshadowing, the tension created by the imagery of ice and cold that runs like a leitmotif throughout the book, and the many fine characterizations make the book more than a one-time read. Flashbacks in which Chrissa recalls countless brief but devastating interactions with her father are clear signals to the reader, and finally to Chrissa, that her quest was really a search for herself. By the time she discovers that he is in a penitentiary, the knowledge can do her little harm. n.v. Louise Plummer The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman In her prologue, narrator and protagonist Kate Bjorkman claims, "This is one of those romance novels . . . that disgusting kind with kisses that last three paragraphs." Well - not exactly. While the chapters are interspersed with "revision notes" to give the appearance of a romance novel in progress, Kate is a much more complex heroine than those of the typical Harlequin fare, and the supporting cast of characters is more developed as well. A self-professed "amazon" at six feet tall, and nearly blind without her thick glasses, Kate is bright and literate and shares her father's passion for linguistics. The not-so-unlikely romance begins when Kate's brother comes home from college with his best friend, Richard, with whom Kate has been infatuated since childhood. Richard's beautiful, ethereal friend Fleur St. Germaine initially appears to fulfill the role of antagonist in the plot, but she soon becomes a good friend and ally to Kate. The real villain is quickly revealed to be Kate's supposed best friend, Ashley - an evil temptress and a force to be reckoned with. The heroine, of course, vanquishes her enemy in the end and wins the hero's heart, but not without experiencing some hurt. Through observations of her newlywed brother and his wife and of her parents' long-standing marriage, Kate also learns that relationships are complicated and require hard work rather than easy appeasement. Kate is the fortunate member of a creative, loving, and supportive family; the story is set over a snowy, idyllic Christmas and New Year's in Minnesota, where "Californicated" Fleur has come to witness a perfect Christmas. Plot tensions notwithstanding, Plummer's novel is filled with the "light, warm air" that spills from the Bjorkmans' home. The holiday cheer, the appealing protagonist, and the happy ending are sure to evoke the simple pleasures of popcorn and cocoa on a cold winter's day. l.a. Marsha Qualey Hometown As the Persian Gulf War looms on the horizon, sixteen-year-old Border moves from Albuquerque to his father's hometown in Minnesota, which his dad hasn't seen since he went to Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. Border and his free-spirited parents have moved around often, but ever since his parents' divorce, he has lived primarily with his father. His mother's career as a political activist and performance artist has caused him some personal embarrassment, and adult supervision from either parent has been rare. Border, who is a gifted musician, is used to cutting school at will and playing his recorder on street corners for money. The move to a small town where he is under the almost constant scrutiny of neighbors comes as a rude shock. Eventually, Border develops a close friendship with schoolmate Jacob and his sister. He even comes to appreciate the constant watchful maternal eye of Connie, an old family friend who lives across the street. On the other hand, Border is unnerved by the strangers who accost him in stores or in school for his father's actions during a war that seems like ancient history. Employing a casual but engaging narrative voice, Qualey creates a subtle, somewhat elusive, portrayal of her young protagonist and makes some telling comments about the disconnection of modern families who communicate largely through electronic means. In the end, small-town intimacy forces Border into a confrontation not only with his father's past but with his own present, and into the realization that he has settled in a place that, for good or ill, is his hometown, too. n.v. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Creech's first children's novel, published in England but never before in the US, will quickly make its way into the hands of readers who loved Walk Two Moons (1994). In Euclid, Ohio, Mary Lou Finney, 13, is constructing her complete and unabridged journal for English class. She observes in detail her large, rowdy, loving family and herself, falling in love, weathering the hot and cold winds of her friendship with Beth Ann, struggling to make sense of Homer's Odyssey and Frost's poetry, pondering fate when a neighbor dies suddenly, and learning to appreciate her taciturn live-in cousin, Carl Ray. Her voice rings 100 percent true, and although she has her serious moments, Mary Lou is a stitch. Much of the humor derives from Creech's playful use of language: When Mary Lou's mother forbids her using the words God, stupid, and stuff, Mary Lou makes a foray into the thesaurus with hilarious results. The plot takes unlikely turns, but Creech gets away with it because the characters are so believable. Tightly written, nary a word out of place, by turns sarcastic, tender, and irreverent, this a real piece of comedy about contemporary teen life from one funny writer. (Fiction. 10-14)

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.