Lizard Music by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Instead of a current YA novel I reached back to 1976 to find a novel to read and review: Daniel Pinkwater's Lizard Music. My first impression is that the book captures the groovy "anything is possible vibe" of the 1970s. I was 8 years-old in 1976 and playing with my Evil Knievel Stunt Bike while Steve Jobs was busy launching Apple. The Concord flew, an Oil Crisis emerged, and Jimmy Carter became the President. Lizard Music doesn't mention any of it, but the whole feel of the novel was very nostalgic for me as it does not read like anything which could be written today--it is more than the mention of artifacts and names of the 70s. The whole tenor of the book is 1970s. It was clearly born out of the mid-70s.
Lizard Music is the story of a fourteen year-old boy, Victor, left home alone who then goes on a bit of a journey. His parents leave to go on a vacation to work on their marriage. His older sister leaves in a rattling oil-spewing jalopy with a bunch of hippies to camp and sing songs about Mother Nature.
Victor's journey is more adventure more than any type of spiritual journey--there doesn't appear to be anything deep to it, no hidden message exists in the text. It is just Victor's journey to an invisible island run by speaking lizards who worship chickens--surrealism for kids.
Remember, the 70s were groovy and ideas were allowed to be far out.
The journey starts with Victor watching Roger Mudd fill in for Walter Cronkite on the late news. He continues to watch television all night because he can, and after the late movie a half dozen lizards appear on the screen playing musical instruments. There aren't people dressed as lizards...these are real lizards, man. Real lizards playing musical instruments. Trippy.
Unfazed, Victor heads into town because he can and because it is something he couldn't normally do when mom and dad were home. While in town he meets the Chicken Man--an old black man who walks town around entertaining people like a minstrel. He totes a real chicken on his head or shoulder and they perform together for people. The chicken knows things too--the location of an invisible island for example--and plays a integral role in the conclusion of the story.
Far out. A chicken.
The thing is, while the book is quite creative and somewhat fun to read, it falls a little flat for me as the journey wasn't really about anything. Victor makes it to the invisible island with the chicken and then makes it home in time for mom and dad's return from marriage-saving vacation. The End.
Am I supposed to be smoking something when I read this?
Because of the weirdness of it, Lizard Music is definitely something I would have enjoyed as an 8 year-old in 1976, but I wonder how it would hold up to a middle school student today. I'll definitely float it out there to my students and I'll be interested to hear what they think.
It has all of the earmarks of a book kids would love. The parents leave him to be alone. He can eat what he wants when he wants. He watches TV all night and rides the bus all over town, plus he gets whisked away to a fantasy land close to Dali's heart and soul.
I think being 42 has caused me to not give the book a glowing review.
As there is an innocence and purity to it, Lizard Music won't hurt to read, but I don't know that given the choice between it and The Hunger Games that many would pick it up. Maybe they will...I could have missed the point since I grew up and left the Hundred Acre Wood.
If you put it on your classroom shelf you aren't causing any harm to the cultural revolution as the incidents in the story are charming and bizarre and somehow whisper the promise that just maybe a kid will read it and realize that anything truly is possible.
View all my reviews