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5 April 2022 YONDER by Ali Standish, HarperCollins, May 2022, 368p., ISBN: 978-0-06-298568-2


“Ooh maybe tomorrow

I'll find my way

To the land where the honey runs

In rivers each day

And the sweet tastin' good life

Is so easily found

A way over yonder

That's where I'm bound”

– Carole King (1971)


“I turned my gaze back toward Jack. I thought he might wave or cheer or grin, the way he might if he’d hit a home run or won a round of capture the flag. Instead, he tilted his chin toward the sky and closed his eyes against the rain. Like that water might baptize him anew, even though he’d already been washed clean by the river. Like it was him who had needed saving that day instead of the Coombs twins.

No one else saw the rawboned boy point his face skyward. They were too busy clutching each other and laughing in relief, already telling one another the story, as if we hadn’t all just seen it for ourselves.

Daddy put Jack on the front page the next day, LOCAL HERO SAVES TODDLER TWINS FROM DROWNING DEATH, read the headline.

And from then on, that’s what Jack Bailey was. Not a boy. A hero.

We argued over the specifics. How long Jack went under the water (some people swore he’d been down there a full two minutes). How much the twins must have weighed soaking wet. Whether he’d found the strength from within or whether it was given to him by the Lord, whom Pastor Douglass had called down to help not a minute too soon. 

But we all agreed on the main thing. Jack Bailey was a hero.

We didn’t stop to wonder what that made us.”


YONDER, set in Appalachia during WWII, is told from the point of view of Danny Timmons. When you read YONDER, pay close attention to Danny’s mother. 


Dorothy Timmons is the unsung hero of this powerful and unforgettable piece of historical fiction. In an era when white men hold all the power, Danny’s mom is an outsider; an independent and college-educated woman; and an honest and loving mother. Anyone would be lucky to have this woman as a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, or a parent. She stands up to people, when necessary, and stands up for people in a manner that changes lives and makes the world a better place. 


It’s a tough world that we live in. And this was a tough time, during World War II, with millions of human beings being systematically exterminated in Europe by Hitler, while millions more were being denied basic human rights in America because of the color of their skin; and when too many Americans were turning a blind eye to what was going on in both cases. 


Danny’s best friend is Lou Maguire, a young lady who fashions herself after her literary hero, Nancy Drew. (Don’t tell anyone, but Danny reads Lou’s books, too.) Young readers will relate to the bullying that Danny endures, and will understand Danny’s growing attachment to Jack Bailey, the older boy who saves those toddler twins from drowning in the Flood of 1940. 


Following a prologue involving Jack’s heroics in the summer that Danny turns ten, the story leaps forward three years, to Jack Bailey’s unexpected disappearance. Danny and Lou, the self-styled mystery solver, have a real case on their hands. The story then criss-crosses back-and-forth over these three years, filling readers in as to how Jack and Danny became close, and helps us understand the possible causes for Jack’s sudden disappearance. In the process, readers learn great details about life on the homefront during WWII. 


Thoughtful readers will see well beyond the action in Foggy Gap, North Carolina, to the deep questions and conflicting ideas examined here relating to war, prejudice, serving one’s country, and treating others as you would want to be treated. YONDER resurrected my own long-ago memories of being bullied, of growing up with a war going on, and of draft boards, which thankfully were abolished just as I graduated high school. 


One thread of the story also reminded me of what Mildred Taylor’s Paul Edward Logan and his descendants endured as Black farmers in America. 


The bottom line is that YONDER is something special. A coming-of-age story featuring well-researched history, stellar character development, heartbreaking loss, and tough questions about what humanity is all about, make this one not to miss.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com






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