Michelle's Reviews > When the Whistle Blows

When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton
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's review
Dec 02, 2009

really liked it
Read in October, 2009

Reading more like a collection of short stories than a novel Slayton has created a touching and intimate look at the life of her main character Jimmy and his family. Transitioning from one year to the next using the central focus of one particular day (in this case Halloween) allows for each individual snapshot to flow together in a way that provides readers a great view of Jimmy’s life and how he’s lived it. The transitions are abrupt in the way that we are able to discern that a new year has come upon us but not so abrupt that the story doesn’t work or that we’re unable to follow along with the premise.

Where Slayton does a remarkable job is in showcasing the strong bond between Jimmy and his family. She does so delicately and in muted tones as we see festive, emotional and sometimes tragic events throughout the eyes of this boy. Slayton subtly shows his growth from a curious and precocious youngster into a thoughtful man while allowing him to maintain core values of tradition and family. Informing the story is the appearance of the local railroad through which the reader is threaded through the passage of time. Ever present in scene, dialogue or just as a thought in the mind of the reader it was this element that made the story more about home than anything else. The vivid imagery of Rowlesburg (Jimmy’s hometown) and it’s railroad industry allows the reader to really feel the character’s physical surroundings and relate to why it is that Jimmy has such a fondness for his hometown. In the end we learn that his life isn’t just all about the people he encountered but the place where he grew up and cherished. It informed his relationships and his decisions in a way any living and breathing family member would yet didn’t stand out as over the top or too dramatic a character.

In my opinion this book would be a great quick read for a reluctant boy. Not only does it focus on a male protagonist the situations tend to show situations that a boy may relate well to — pranks, sports, and general mischief. Even better, is the fact that within those elements are interwoven the more tangibly emotional aspects of family dynamics, work ethic and sense of belonging. There are some soulful and meaningful lessons to be learned.

This is not to say that the book is not appealing to girls as well as I enjoyed it a great deal. I just envision it’s greatest strength (characterization and plot) appealing to boys who don’t typically enjoy reading as much as playing sports or video games. Further, the fact that it is a quick read doesn’t diminish it’s impact on the reader. The story is in depth and emotional providing an entertaining and enjoyable journey from start to finish.

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