Sunday, September 13, 2009
When I was browsing the "New Books" section at my local public library, I picked up a book titled Tracktown Summer by Elizabeth Holmes. On the cover, I saw two boys jumping into water (I love books that have their settings on or near water) and the title had the word "summer" (I also happen to love summer and the lack of schedule it brings). Those two reasons alone made me want to find out a bit more about this book, so I opened to the front flap.
On the front flap, I learned that we have the main character, Nick, whose parents are separated, and he will be visiting his dad for the summer at a cottage by a lake. I also realized where the "Tracktown" in the title comes from -- there is a railroad track that runs past the cottage four times a day, and is so loud, it makes the cottage vibrate. I also found out that Nick will be meeting another character, Adrian. Adrian has a very "dark" side at times.
The flap of the book is truly a great summary of what happens once you start reading. Jake's mom drops him off at his dad's cottage for the summer, but when Jake sees how shabby the cottage his dad has, along with the other cottages near by, he wants to go home. Add to that, the train that "screams" past the cottage 4 times a day, and Jake is pretty miserable.
Jake's dad is a professor at a university, and as many professors do, he is trying to publish a book about his area of expertise. In order to make that happen, he spends no time with Jake until the late afternoon, if at all. They do spend the evenings together, but this is definitely not the father-son bonding experience Jake had expected.
Bored and looking for something to do, he walks around the other cottages, and he eventually meets Adrian who lives in one of the cottages at the end. Jake's summer starts to look up as he as found someone who likes to play basketball and just hang out together.
But soon, Adrian starts to push Jake out of his comfort zone. There is the time they were playing at the beach, and Adrian kept pushing Jake's head underwater for well over a minute. There are all the times Adrian pulls out cigarettes to smoke. There is the time that Adrian talked Jake into hiking to a "great swimming place" which turns out to be private property, and they had to run away from the owner. There are all the times Adrian asks Jake not to tell his dad the truth. There is the fact that Adrian never asks Jake into his cottage, and always keeps the front door closed tight. There is the time Adrian stole his sister's key, and took her car out for a drive; he took Jake with him.
It is a summer for Jake to discover where his moral compass is, as well as trying to define what his relationship will be with his dad.
There are other characters that are central to the story and very enjoyable. Allie is a girl Jake's age and lives in the cottage right next to Jake. On the days both her parents are working, it is the expectation that Allie will babysit her younger sister, as well as take care of the house. Allie is mature, and the voice of reason. Allie's younger sister is Maddy, and she says the most precocious things -- having her in the story lightens things up. Finally, there is Peter. Peter is younger than Jake, and loves all his scientific collections of things from nature.
Tracktown Summer is disturbing, haunting, and realistic, all rolled up into one entity. It is a book that will appeal to children going through some of these life situations -- a) parents separated and living far apart, b) families with both parents working and the expectation that the children will have to step up to the plate because of the long hours the parents work, c) mental illness within a family and how it affects the entire family, d) children being presented with an opportunity to choose between the right and safe decision or the decision that is not safe and is only chosen to try to be "cool" and accepted, e) having parents that seem not to pay attention to their children and f) living situations (in this case, cottages, that are not well maintained and run-down) that are less than desirable.
That being said, I think Tracktown Summer is also a book children who are fortunate enough not to have these issues should read as well. I think it would be a real eye-opener to how others, less fortunate, live on a day to day basis.
I read Tracktown Summer in one sitting; it was just that engaging. It is a book I will be thinking about for a long time to come.