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27 November 2023 GATHER by Kenneth M. Cadow, Candlewick, October 2023, 336p., ISBN: 978-1-5362-3111-3


“Some folks would be happy just to have one dream come true

But everything you gather is just more that you can lose.”

– Jerry Garcia (1976)


“Climb for a few minutes up a densely wooded hill behind Ken Cadow's house in Norwich, and you'll find a shingled cabin the size of a cozy bedroom. Inside, a faded red easy chair with threadbare arms sits alongside an ice-hut stove procured for $35 on eBay. A pair of wool clogs rests on a dingy, tan bath mat.


Cadow's weathered wood desktop, mounted on a vintage sewing-table base scavenged from the town dump, is positioned squarely before a picture window that offers a diorama-like view of moss-covered hardwoods, conifers and ferns sprouting from a crunchy carpet of fallen leaves. A coat rack on the wall bears a message of pluck: ‘Talent is overrated. Skill is acquired.’


Cadow, 59, has spent hundreds of hours in this cabin, which he built in 1999, sans electricity or internet, in a determined pursuit: outlining, writing and revising a book about a Vermont teen named Ian, who meets hardship with grit, humor, resilience and the unflinching companionship of a huge Irish wolfhound-mastiff mix named Gather.


Gather is also the name of Cadow's newly released young adult novel, which is informed by the insights and empathy Cadow has cultivated through 20 years of working with middle and high school students, as a teacher and administrator in rural Vermont. He is currently co-principal of Oxbow High School in Bradford, helping to oversee around 400 students.”

– from “From a Cabin in Norwich, School Principal Ken Cadow Wrote a Young Adult Novel Set in Vermont That’s Up for a National Book Award” sevendaysvt.com (11/14/23)


Holy smokes. Teacher/Administrator Ken Cadow knows what he writes about, and he’s spent those twenty years filling his debut novel with breathtaking beauty and heartache. GATHER, which was named a National Book Award finalist last month, just as it was being released, is guaranteed to gather much, much more acclaim as it makes its way into library collections, and into the hands of young readers. 


While this is widely and justifiably considered to be a YA title, GATHER is a significant piece of young people’s literature that will equally captivate plenty of tweens. As with the best-of-the-best notable YA, such as SPEAK, I emphatically advocate for GATHER’s inclusion in any middle school collection for which a librarian is willing to spend a few quality days inhaling this stunning tale so as to be able to booktalk it, and defend the occasional inclusion of cuss words as part of Ian’s extraordinary voice.  


“So, something I have to say is about the word gather. It means a lot of things, like gathering food. Gathering your thoughts. When somebody who listens, somebody like The Sharpe, when she asks you what it's like to grow up the way you’re growing up, you gather together all these parts of your life and all these stories of things from way before, things that get mixed up with what’s happening right then. Those stories don’t come out like a goddam timeline.

They come out like compost. All the leaves, the coffee grounds, fireplace ashes, apple cores, tea bags, onion skins, eggshells, corn husks, potato peels, everything that turned to dirt at one time or another, doesn’t matter when, it belongs with whatever you’ve got growing out of it right there in front of you. Doesn’t matter, either, if you’re talking about sugar snap peas, tomatoes, pumpkins, or weeds. You can’t go pulling all the dirt away from the roots, trying to put it in some kind of order so you can understand it your way. You kill it if you do that.

Stories we tell will come out like the way you walk the woods if you want to know it–zigzagging, doubling back, maybe tripling, sometimes enough to find out that the parts you know the least are the parts closest to home. You don’t just make some frigging beeline to some hill like you’re trying to get your steps in. I just don’t understand people like that. I don’t think they’re from around here.”


Ian’s dad left. His mom has fallen into opiate addiction. This poor kid is pretty much on his own, stuck with a lack of food and worn-out, ill-fitting clothing. He’s a damned good basketball player, but his circumstances have precluded his consistently making it to school on time, so he’s constantly being penalized for that which he is not responsible. Amidst all of this, the dog he names Gather shows up at the Vermont farm his dad’s people have nurtured for generations, and becomes one very good thing in Ian’s life. The young man will come to deal with scoundrels, clueless rule-makers, and some very empathetic, loving and giving people. Given the author’s background, it’s not surprising to find a teacher stepping up bigtime when it counts the most.


Told in the first person, Ian’s story will break your heart, challenge your assumptions, and absolutely, frigging blow you away. A boy-and-his-dog coming-of-age story, twenty years in the making, GATHER is so moving that I get a lump in my throat just trying to write about it. It’s the real deal, so don’t miss it.


I’m already ready to start reading it all over again.


Richie Partington, MLIS

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





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