Becky Birtha's Reviews > Little Audrey

Little Audrey by Ruth White
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Sep 24, 11

bookshelves: middle-grade-novel
Read in September, 2011

For some reason, I find it hard to resist children's novels packaged in a small or square format. Perhaps publishers deliberately present certain kinds of literary works in this way-- I don't know. Two books that I picked up recently met my high expectations for books of their size, and I was struck by the similarity in their content, though the stories are set years apart.

In Listening for Crickets, a contemporary novel, Jake is a fifth grader who can barely read and has gotten into a couple of fights in school. Dad can't keep a job and drinks too much, but his real problem is anger management. Mom worries about her weight and the bills, and tends to blame Dad, but has a role, too, in the fighting the couple can't seem to avoid. Jake's relationship with seven year old Cassie, who suffers from asthma and shares his room, is more like that of a parent than an older brother. In compelling first person, present tense narrative, author David Gifaldi captures the fear, tension, embarrassment, and constant hypervigilance experienced by children in a family situation that is not so uncommon, and their need to create safe space. Without ever being judgmental, the story reveals class issues from the inside, and builds to a conclusion that brings some relief-- but there are no easy answers.

Ruth White's Little Audrey takes place in a coal mining camp in southwest Virginia in 1948. Based on the family in which White grew up, it is also told in first person, present tense, from the point of view of White's older sister Audrey, the oldest of four living children, and introduced by a photograph of their mother and five daughters (including the baby who died before this story begins). With generous details, White paints a vivid picture of the culture, customs, and hardships of that life, including another father who drinks too much, a mother who's often emotionally unavailable due to depression, and engaging eleven year old Audrey, trying to get enough to eat, avoid the class bullies, and have a few dreams for a better life. While Gifaldi's Jake made up stories about dragons to distract his younger sister from their problems, White's Audrey escapes in reading books. Like the other book I've read by Ruth White, The City Rose (written when she was Ruth Miller), the story encompasses both tragedy and hope.

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