Wednesday, February 22, 2012

YA Book Review: Crossing the Stones

A colleague laughed at me yesterday when I referenced Crossing the Stones by Helen Frost as beautiful I wanted to read it a second time just as I finished it the first time.  And I did.

Part journey, part love story Crossing the Stones (in its own way) balances Aristotle's pathos--ethos--logos.  While this novel is not a persuasive essay per se, it does stir up several topics that would serve as wonderful starters for persuasive essays in the middle school classroom.  The appeals of logic, emotion, and character stand firm and clear--no one apologizes for their thoughts or who they are--these are fictional characters built on the real emotion and reality of a volatile moment of American history.

Our nation changed not only on the surface, but also down to the core of families--families were torn apart by death and growth.  While the looming threat of death exists, this novel presents so much more than death.  True, one could argue that the death of the traditional American family plays out here as well--yet this story emerges as so much more than that.  Beauty is born out of these circumstances, and Frost takes the reader on that journey.

Written in a combination of free-verse verse and cupped-hand sonnets, Crossing the Stones is a coming-of-age novel set in 1917.  Every significant character in this novel goes on a journey of some type--some return, some do not.  All are changed by their individual journeys as well as by the journeys of loved ones around them.

Each page or so is a different poem (a vignette) told from the point-of-view of any one of five characters: Muriel, Frank, Emma, Ollie, Grace.  While this is eighteen year-old Muriel's story, all of the characters play significant roles in the plot and each connects with the reader in some way--they each have striking moments in which you can not help but like them and root for them.

The conflicts in this story are built around family and the obstacles or challenges each must overcome as they face World War I and the emerging Suffragist Movement.  As Frank and Ollie hurtle on the path to manhood (walking into the teeth of war) many at home are criticized for not blindly supporting the war.  Muriel questions it much to the dismay of her teacher--why does everyone just listen and go to war?

Muriel is the perfect vehicle to connect with her Aunt Vera marching with the other Suffragists in front of the White House in support of women's rights--which in the end is really about a woman's voice.  I really liked that Muriel wrestles with her own voice at home.  She questions her voice, yet late in the novel it is her voice which serves as a healing balm and soothes her sister back to health--almost falling to the deadly influenza outbreaks soldiers unintentionally brought home from the front.

As the reader concludes the book a note from the author brings the form together--this note moved me to reread the book immediately.  Frost explains the poetic form and offers a few insights that definitely enhanced the reading of the novel.  However, I think the book is best enjoyed naturally--just read it for enjoyment.  And then consider Frost's notes.

Crossing the Stones is beautiful--I stand by my statement no matter who laughs at me.  Any story taking the reader on a journey where families are torn apart by death and by the growth and expansion of the world echoes a line from Wallace Stevens: Death is the mother of beauty.

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