Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crossing Stones

by Helen Frost
Farrar, Straus & Giroux | 2009

This narrative brings together the voices of two families in rural Michigan in 1917 as their sons go off to war and their daughters struggle to define themselves. There is an easy symmetry in the families and an assumption that the boys and girls will match up and be partnered, but Muriel finds herself questioning this arranged destiny. "Mother: I have no intention of becoming the Mrs. Norman of your imaginary future. Who I am remains to be seen - and I alone intend to be the one to see it." Muriel tells us this on page 15! So early we learn this young woman in 1917 will not be molded easily. And luckily for her, she has a paternal aunt who is fighting for suffrage.

At 16, Muriel is already questioning the status quo at school and at home, and her parents, although supportive, are cautionary. They tell her she must learn to mind her tongue, to think before she speaks, to not be too forthright with her thoughts or questions. They are raising a daughter, after all, in 1917. When Muriel attempts to write to her friend (not boyfriend) Frank, away at war, her mother is quick - "I'm not aware I know this rule, until I'm embarrassed to be caught breaking it: The gentleman should always be the first to write, Mama informs me. A lady never writes before she has received a letter." Yet two pages later, Muriel's mother says to her daughter after a bout of questioning: "Maybe you won't rock the cradle, Muriel. Some women prefer to rock the boat.

Told deftly by Helen Frost in verse, the poems are shaped round like river stones and waving like river water. The shape depends on from whose point of view they are told. This book is for anyone really, but it might be especially good for middle and high school girls. It reminded me why it's important to believe in myself and I think it would do the same for younger readers.

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