Wednesday, March 18, 2015

10 Things I Loved About Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

One day I forgot to bring my book to work with me, so I needed something to read on my break. I wandered up to our Juvenile Fiction section at the academic library where I work, and pulled this book off the shelf. I ended up reading only 2 chapters, since I spent most of my break chatting with a coworker, but it intrigued me enough that I borrowed it and brought it home, where it's been sitting in my stack of library books for a while. A couple of days ago I picked it up again, started reading, and didn't want to put it down. This book consumed me as I consumed it.

Set roughly in the 60s or 70s, this book is about a group of fourteen year olds as their lives criss and cross and interconnect and disconnect and reconnect along with all of the strange, quirky, confusing, wonderful, challenging things that happen in a small town as you're growing up.

You can check out Lynne Rae Perkins website HERE.

  1. The format: This is such a unique book in its format. There are strings of dialogue, snippets of conversations, feelings, drawings, songs, prose, poetry, pictures - all woven together just like the lives of these teens are woven together. Somehow it makes something bigger than the sum of the parts.
  2. Debbie: If I had to choose a protagonist, she would be at the top of the list. She's trapped in the in between stage of childhood and adulthood and just trying to figure out who she is. She's settling into the person she's going to be and reaching for the person she wants to be. I found her so distinctive and yet she also feels a little bit universal of how many girls seem to feel at that age.
  3. Hector: He ties at the top of the list for protagonist. At the beginning of the novel he's moved by music and sets out to learn how to play the guitar. He starts with chords, he starts writing songs (or at least the choruses of songs). He starts seeing the lyrical in the world around him. It's not as though he hadn't seen it before, but that it's clear to him in a different way because of the way he's changing and growing up and music opens the world up for him.
  4. The setting: I love that it's set in past decades, because, if anything, it adds to the feeling of universality of what the characters are going through. Maybe it's not your neighborhood, but it could be. And these could be your friends, And this could be you. Maybe it was. Maybe it still is. Maybe it's who you're going to be. I love the connection with the characters while the characters are still themselves, not just universal types, yet somehow they function that way too.
  5. Dan: I loved the ambiguity of his character. While each teen is a bundle of possibilities poised on the edge of what they could become, Dan walks the razor edge. He could fall or he could surmount. And it's not clear which way he's going to turn. There aren't any easy answers. He still has a chance to choose to become something powerful and good rather than powerful and mean. But he has the capacity for meanness and only time will tell who he decides to be.
  6. The illustrations: They add such a whimsical touch. And sometimes, you have to really look to see how the drawing connects to what is being said or thought in the story. It's like a little puzzle to decode that enhances your engagement with the text.
  7. Different intelligences: I liked that different characters were shown to be smart in different ways. It wasn't just book-smart or academic intelligence that was portrayed (though it's not excluded either), it is also mechanical knowledge, musical knowledge, the understanding of human behavior, emotional intelligence - so many different ways of being smart, each of which plays its role in the things that happen. And many characters have a combination of these and by using their knowledge, they're able to help those around them and gain confidence in themselves.
  8. The friendships: Even though there are obviously some closer connections between some of the characters (like Patty and Debbie), I liked that it felt like a real town. Where you see the same people all the time and in school and in your neighborhood, so you spend time with someone because you like them. But it doesn't have to be because you like them. In fact, if anything, romantic love is diminished. What is important is relationships between people. And they don't have to be romantic relationships to be important.
  9. Beauty in the details: I loved the way little things have significance. The way Hector and Debbie and Lenny see things like combs in the street or the way an engine works or the strange shape of a wrench and see the beauty in something many people would just look over or disregard.
  10. The message: While I think that the criss crossing of life and the interconnectedness of us as humans is a huge part of the message that comes across in the story, for me the thing that stood out was the reminder that it's the little decisions we make that can have a huge impact on who we are. Big sweeping exciting events don't have to happen for us to do something important or become the person we want to be. Every choice we make has an effect on the person we are becoming. So we need to make decisions that make us the person we want to be.
Happy Reading!

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