Monday, November 9, 2009

Richard Peck's down home goodness

Richard Peck has been around for a long time. He's been writing contemporary teen novels for most of his career, but around the turn of the millennium (that sounds weird), he aimed his craft at writing for younger readers and changed his settings to rural towns around the turn of the century. This was a good move for him because his books A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder won him a Newberry Honor and Newberry Medal. For good reason because these books are examples of storytelling at its finest.

Peck's writing makes you feel like he's channeling Mark Twain. Using the characters' midwestern vernacular, you get a feeling of sitting on a porch swing, listening to someone of an older generation spin tales. You're not sure how much of it is true since the ridiculousness of some of it seems too big to swallow, yet you're willing to believe because the story is just that good. Peck has written some of his books with one family as the central characters, but then he also has other books with the same setting (turn of the century, rural Indiana) and all new characters. They're all good.

The book I read most recently was Here Lies the Librarian and has Peck's usual assortment of quirky characters, unexpected heroes, and a story that keeps you riveted to your chair until you finish. Eleanor and her brother run a small auto shop in a tiny town that has fierce competition from a bigger outfit that pulls stunts like pouring sugar in gas tanks to get business. When a quartet of young co-eds from the university in Indianapolis show up in town and pour their family money into renovating the town's neglected library, everything is shaken up. There's also car racing, stunt-pulling, a colonel who can't seem to remember he's not in the middle of the Civil War anymore and a tornado that digs up local graves. This book is a fun ride.

The very best aspect of Peck's books is that you could read them out loud to your entire family and not a single one of them would get bored. Well, maybe your two and under crowd would lose interest, but these are books for parents and children and any extended family that might be hanging around. The language is nearly tangible with how real and beautifully crafted it is and the characters are such fun to read. I can't vouch for anything Peck has written outside of his thread of books like Here Lies the Librarian, but I can say that if you make time for these books, you will not regret it.

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