A remarkable novel about one of the most important, and loving, relationships in Gary Paulsen's life.
The wonderful grandmother seen through the eyes of a young boy in The Cookcamp reaches out to him at 14, offering him a haven from his harsh and painful family life. She arranges a summer job for him on the farm where she is a cook for Gunnar and Olaf, elderly brothers. Farm life offers the camaraderie and routine of hard work, good food, peaceful evenings spent making music together, even learning to dance. Life with Alicia gives the boy strength and faith in himself, drawing him away from the edge and into the center of life.
Paulsen revisits the terrain of various autobiographical writings (Father Water, Mother Woods; Eastern Sun, Winter Moon; and sections of My Life in Dog Years) for this affecting story of a pivotal summer. The 14-year-old protagonist, who is named only as "the boy," has been sliding slowly toward troubleAnearly flunking school, working odd jobs early in the morning and late at night, and sleeping near the furnace to avoid his perpetually drunk parents. So when the boy receives a letter from his grandmother Alida, asking that he come work on the farm, owned by two Norwegian brothers where she is employed as a cook, he is quick to accept. Paulsen brings his great skills as a naturalist and his enthusiasm for the outdoor life to descriptions of the boy's adjustment to the orderly farm, from vivid descriptions of an encounter with hostile geese to the work of milking cows and tending fields. The characterizations are deeply affectionate if a little Waltons-ish: Alida and the two farmers are strong, self-contained and yet keenly attuned to the boy's unstated needs. Several narrative frames neatly set off the effect of the farm interlude: the book begins as the protagonist, grown and in the Army, pays a visit to Alida, and it ends when he, "old enough to have grandchildren of his own," discovers that there was more behind that special summer than he had known. It's Paulsen's classic blend of emotion and ruggedness, as satisfying as ever. Ages 10-up. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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April 09, 2001
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Excerpt from Alida's Song by Gary Paulsen
Saturday came fast, too fast for the boy, but not so fast that he did not have time to think of the problems he faced. He had never been to a party. He did not know any of the people who would be there. He had never been to a dance. He could not speak to girls. He could not be with crowds of strangers. He could not, he finally decided, go. The boy started in early in the day on Saturday. As they did morning chores he mentioned that he was not feeling well. His grandmother felt his head and Olaf and Gunnar both looked at him strangely. "You did not seem sick at breakfast," Olaf said. "You ate good." "He ate more than me," Gunnar said. "More than both of us." "I just feel kind of sick," the boy said, knowing it was a lost cause. "It only came over me now." "Well," his grandmother said, "I'll just have to stay home tonight and make sure you are all right." The looks Olaf and Gunnar sent him were withering and he knew it was over. "I think it will be all right. I think I just drank too much milk. I'm still not used to whole milk." Preparations began right after evening chores. From the Hardcover edition.