I would call Horn Book the premier children’s-book review journal–what Atlantic Monthly is to Newsweek, Horn Book is to . . . oh well, I’d better not make any comparisons, because the other review journals have been nice to me. The magazine is appropriately based in Boston, the bastion of literacy, and does not include every book reviewed in its annual guide, so I’m honored that I Don’t Know How the Story Ends has appeared in the current issue. I can’t provide a link but can share the review itself.
And it’s good! I would change one word, though–guess which one?
When Isobel’s father enlists in the Medical Corps during WWI, his assurance that “bullets won’t get me” offers only uneasy comfort. Seeking a change of scenery from rainy Seattle, Isobel’s mother takes her and her younger sister to visit their ebullient aunt, Buzzy, in Los Angeles. The adults believe that Aunt Buzzy’s thirteen-year-old stepson, Ranger, will be a great companion for the girls, but he’s more interested in making films than making friends. Ranger and his buddy Sam are obsessed with filming a movie intended to catch the eye of D. W. Griffith and create an entrée for themselves into the industry.
While long on technical skill, the boys have only a bare-bones script, so Isobel steps in with rewrites. These end up being unintentionally autobiographical, with the worry about her father never far from her mind. Cheaney establishes setting partly by name-dropping, introducing readers to Charlie Chaplin, Mack Sennett, and Douglas Fairbanks. But the real sense of the times comes with the freedom of the characters to roam the Hollywood Hills on their own and, like many a movie character from those days, the confidence that they can indeed produce a fine show. There’s plenty of melodrama to both the movie script and Isobel’s real-life situation, but her coming of age rings true.
Did you guess? It’s in the last sentence and starts with a “b” and I advise parents and teachers never to use it while correcting their students’ writing assignment. Yep: it’s the word “but,” which makes “melodrama” sound like it’s a bad thing. Most fictional stories sound like melodrama (or soap opera) when you relate the bare plot, and this story is big on “pathos,” both onscreen and off. The word but waves a little red flag in the middle of the sentence: beware the melodrama! Not a complaint, though–there are plenty of great words like ebullient, real, true, confidence. So here’s one more: Thanks!