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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 9 years, 5 months ago

29 September 2010 JUMPSTART THE WORLD by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Knopf, October 2010, 208p., ISBN: 978-0-375-86665-4; Libr. ISBN: 978-0-375-96665-1


"I'll have a meeting invite everyone you know

I'll pass out buttons for the ones who come to show

Beautiful people

Never have to be alone

'Cuz there'll always be someone

With the same button on as you

Include him in everything you do

He may be sitting right next to you

He may be beautiful people too

And if you take care of him

Maybe I'll take care of you"

-- Melanie Safka


"'Okay, now please tell me why that one.  That cat is so...There is nothing distinctive or beautiful about that cat.  I wish you would look at this beautiful Persian mix again.  Why would you settle for that plain-looking tabby...'

"'Not that one,' I said.  'The black one.  The guy in the back.' 

"In the silence that followed, it was all I could do to keep from smiling.  This was the cat that would drive my mother crazy.  This was the choice only I could make.

"First of all, he had only one eye.  The other one was closed forever, like nothing had ever been there.  And he had a big chunk bitten out of his right ear, and patches of him missing fur.  He looked like his hair had been falling out in clumps. 

"He was perfect.  He was my cat.

"Long, long silence.

"'Okay,' she said.  Quietly.  Then, measuring every word: 'You're angry with me.  I understand that.  I'm not even saying I blame you--'

"'I'm taking that cat.  I want the black one.  You can't talk me out of it, so don't even try.'  I was already starting to understand him.  To feel for him.  Or maybe even to feel with him.  He was scared.  He was not cuddly.  He was not beautiful.  If I didn't take him, he was as good as dead.  He was about to be given the death penalty for not being beautiful.  Someone had to come along and love him just the way he was.  I was that someone."


Fifteen year-old Elle certainly has good reason to be furious with her mother and to identify with a scared, ugly, and unloved cat.  This is because Mom has just rented Elle her own apartment.  It is the end product of Mom having chosen her boyfriend Donald over Elle.  Literally.  Mom and Donald will now depart for a cruise just days before Elle's sixteenth birthday.


Elle further reacts to her own abandonment -- and to her mother's horrific behavior -- by shearing off her hair (which is too much like Mom's).  Arguably, the timing is not stellar.  Elle is about to start attending a new school, and her shorn appearance encourages the school's Neanderthals to immediately scrawl hate speech across her locker.  Thus it is that Elle falls in with a small group of students who don't fit into the conventional norms for sexual identification.


And all of this, in turn, becomes a setup for the challenging friendship that develops between Elle and a gentle man named Frank, her neighbor in the apartment building.  After developing a crush on and friendship with Frank, Elle comes to learn  that he is actually a transgender female to male.


Because of her lack of knowledge, Elle's discomfort with Frank and his world and her having had a crush on a woman is realistic, and it is quite likely that lots of readers will readily identify with Elle's ignorance and resulting discomfort. 


And that brings me back around to another cat story that I can easily argue is one of the most important books I've read this year.  It is Mo Willems' CAT THE CAT: WHO IS THAT?


In CAT THE CAT: WHO IS THAT?, an unseen narrator repeatedly asks that very question and Cat the Cat responds with delight by identifying each of her friends (Mouse the Mouse, Duck the Duck, Fish the Fish, etc.).  But then we turn the page and that unseen narrator asks "'Cat the Cat, who is THAT?'"  We are then looking at what one is likely consider the image of some sort of unidentifiable alien species.  And after Cat the Cat wrestles for a minute with identifying he? she? it?, she concludes, "'It's a NEW friend.'" 


The point is, it doesn't really matter whether or not Elle or I can fully grasp all of the complications involved physically or emotionally with being transgendered.  What matters is that we consider such individuals to be beautiful people too -- new friends regardless of what we do or don't understand about their appearances and self-identifications -- and that we be amongst the enlightened by accepting and welcoming this and all differences in how people look, speak, dress, eat, and identify themselves.  


As Elle seeks to mother that torn-up cat and to heal her own wounds, she explores how she might deal with her discomfort over Frank and become a real friend.  


"He sighed.  'I guess I mean we all pretty much agree on certain things.  Equality and stuff like that.  But whenever it turns up missing, people just let it slide.  That's why there's such a thing as activism.  Sometimes you have to jumpstart the world just to get it to be what even the world admits it should be.'" 


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

FTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books.  You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received.  Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries.

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