Aug 13, 2010

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

Here’s yet another entry in my unofficial Ana’s Quest to Read All the Carnegie Medal Winners Series: Ruby Holler is the story of Dallas and Florida, a pair of thirteen-year-old orphan twins who have spent most of their lives at an orphanage by the name of Boxton Creek Home. When they’re not at the orphanage, they’re with adoptive families who are abusive at worst and neglectful at best, and who inevitably return the “trouble twins”, claiming that on second thought they’ve changed their minds about adopting them. Unsurprisingly, Florida and Dallas are reluctant to trust adults, and they’ve become convinced that they’re actually as terrible and unlovable as everyone around them seems to think.

Enter Tiller and Sairy, an old couple who live at a beautiful old farm house in a valley named Ruby Holler. Initially they don’t mean to adopt the twins, but they need companions for the separate dream trips they’re thinking of taking, and so they hire them for the summer. But Florida and Dallas aren’t keen to be separated, and they swear that before this can happen they’ll take the night train and disappear forever. But as they get attached to Ruby Holler and begin to feel at ease with Tiller and Sairy, they keep postponing their escape for just one more day…

Ruby Holler is one of those books that turned out to be completely different than I had imagined, but not at all in a bad way. I’d heard it was a charming children’s novel with a touch of magic realism, and so for some reason I immediately assumed that Ruby Holler was the name of the small town where the story was set. What I expected was a children’s version of Daniel Wallace’s wonderful novels, where his fictional Southern towns are as important and as central to the story as any character. The main reason why I’m telling you this is so that I can entice you to read Daniel Wallace, about whose brilliance I’ve been silent for far too long (more on that later this week). The other reason is because I don’t want the words “magic realism” to give you the wrong impression like they did me. The magical elements in Ruby Holler are very subtle, and they really aren’t the crux of the story. And now that I’ve warned you, let me finally move on to what the book actually is.

Ruby Holler may not be about an enchanting small town, but it is indeed charming. It’s not, however, one of my favourite Carnegie winner so far. I was going to say that as good as it is, it’s not as quite as momentous as the other winner I’ve read to date, but you know what, that would probably be unfair of me. It’s a different sort of book, that’s all. The tone is light and humorous, but it does deal with serious things – namely the slow and painful process through which two young people who have been hurt again and again learn to trust adults once more. Watching Florida and Dallas let their guard down so that they could resume being ordinary children was quite moving. Sharon Creech tells this story very well indeed, and I imagine that a tone that so perfectly balances lightness and pain is not at all easy to achieve. As Philip Pullman put it:
There are no false notes, no striving for effect, no clever jokes that miss half the audience, no patronising facetiousness. Creech takes her material seriously, and presents it without affectation. That happens more rarely than it should; it takes practice to bring it off, as well as talent, but when it does, it means that the tone resonates sympathetically with the subject. The whole book is in tune.
Ruby Holler is one of those books that gain emotional resonance and depth as the story progresses. There are no big surprises – you can tell from the very beginning how things will turn out – and the humour never really disappears. But Sharon Creech gives us glimpses of the secret aspirations of even the most unimportant of secondary characters, and while these don’t make the story advance, they’re fundamental because they people it with real, complex human beings, whose feelings you have no choice but to take as seriously as those of the protagonists. These glimpses contrast with the dream world Dallas and Florida inhabit at Ruby Holler, where they almost make themselves believe that any problem can be solved by hopping on the night train. And even more interestingly, they give hints of the complexities of the adult world the twins are about to enter.

This is not a novel that changed my life, but I loved it because at its core it’s a story about the triumph of kindness. It’s an uplifting book, but not in a simplified or sugary way that dismisses the pain and darkness of the world. It acknowledges that these exist, but it shows that sometimes human beings actually do decide to make each other’s lives easier rather than more difficult. And sometimes that’s enough.

Reviewed at:
Inkweaver Reviews

(Have I missed yours?)

23 comments:

  1. Ooh, Sharron Creech! I LOVED her books as a teenager; I think Walk Two Moons was just amazing.

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  2. I often book talk this book or use it as a read aloud. My students love Dallas and Ruby's sarcasm and humor.
    Creech is one of my favorites and the kids blow through her books. Walk Two Moons is one of those books that is perfect for mother daughter reading. I think WTM's is much richer in all elements . Tiny Holler like you said is just light and fun.

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  3. Sharon Creech is great. Have you read any of her other books? I would second wisteria's recommendation of Walk Two Moons, and she also wrote a book called Bloomability that's gorgeous and touching. It's about a girl who goes off to live with her aunt and uncle in Switzerland, and she is all displaced and meets new people and grows apart from her family. It's good.

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  4. Okay, so it goes without saying that I absolutely adored your review. But Ana, that last little paragraph...it just made me heart smile. I can't wait to read this now (and luckily, this is one I already own). :)

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  5. A holler is a valley - it's actually the way they say hollow in Appalachia. The book sounds good to me.

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  6. I'm going to go ahead and reveal my ignorance - I have no idea what the Carnegie medal is for... :/ I think I ought to read up on that, no?

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  7. This sounds like a little gem of a story! I love how honest it sounds. And how it doesn't pretend to be something it's not. If I get the chance to read the book, I certainly will!

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  8. My daughter went through a period (after reading Walk Two Moons) in which she read everything by Creech, and I saw Ruby Holler on her shelf and thought the same kind of thing you thought about it. But since you've shown me I was wrong, you've enticed me to read it!

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  9. This sounds great, I've added it to my wishlist. Very wonderful review.

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  10. Sounds like one to get from the library rather than rush out and buy. I like magical realism, it's what Alice Hoffman excels at after all.

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  11. It's nice to know that the book was such a comfortable read, both in it's presentation and in your reaction to it. Though it's not the best of the bunch for you, it does sound like you enjoyed it a lot. It does sound like it's a rather sensitive story about some difficult topics. Great review, Anna!

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  12. I enjoyed this one, too. It's not my favorite book by Creech, but I can honestly say I've loved every book of hers that I've read so far. Her characters are memorable and so believable, and her books always have an emotional impact on me.

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  13. Verity: Adding Walk Two Moons to my wishlist right now!

    Wisteria: Clearly I need to read more of her stuff!

    Jenny: See, this is exactly why I love you guys. I don't think I'd even heard of any of her other books before, and now I'm convinced I need to read them :P

    Debi: I think this kind of book tends to be devalued, which is really a pity! Anyway... you'll definitely enjoy this!

    Kathy: Okay, that makes sense :P

    Amanda: It's kind of the UK equivalent to the Newbery Medal. Except they don't have a Printz equivalent, so it covers both children's lit and YA.

    Emidy: Yes, exactly! And it's refreshing for that very reason.

    Jeanne: I'm glad to have enticed you! And apparently her other books are even better than this, so we have some great reading ahead of us, it seems.

    Amy, I hope you'll enjoy it!

    Rhinoa: Yes, exactly. I got my copy from Bookmooch which I guess is a fair middle ground :P

    Zibilee: Yes - it was a very comforting read, and I really crave those sometimes :)

    Darla D: Clearly I need to read more Creech!

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  14. Oh I've never heard of this one but it sounds really sweet.

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  15. Sharon Creech sounds like an awesome writer! thanks for the great review!

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  16. Oh! And Chasing Redbird, also! I can't believe I forgot about Chasing Redbird. Read Chasing Redbird also. And The Wanderer. And Absolutely Normal Chaos. But indispensably you should read Walk Two Moons and Bloomability.

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  17. This sounds really nice, and what a sweet looking cover.
    Great review :)
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  18. Yes - Walk Two Moons, and Chasing Redbird, and The Wanderer - Sharon Creech is a quite brilliant writer, but I don't think Ruby Holler - though charming as you say - is one of her best.

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  19. You always write such enticing reviews! This book was on one of my bookshelves a few days ago and now it is gone, and all my daughters swear they have never owned the book. Am I hallucinating? Or was your review so powerful it actually caused the book to appear in my house, however briefly? :-)

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  20. I think I'd like this especially because it's not sugary sweet but still manages to be about kindness.

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  21. Sharon Creech is one of my faves -- I own 7 of her books but once I stopped teaching I lost track of her newer books. You've reminded me of some rereading I need to do.

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  22. It's been awhile since I've read Ruby Holler, and your review has inspired me to reread it. Definitely read Walk Two Moons; it's her best. And while you're at it, you might as well read the rest of her books, too :)

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  23. Iliana: It was! It made me happy and it was a nice change from my usual depressing reads :P

    Marie: I think I could grow to really love her :)

    Jenny: *writes down titles* Hopefully my new library will have them!

    Naida: Isn't the cover lovely? And it really fits the book.

    Katherine Langrish: It makes me happy to hear I have books even better than this one ahead of me! I'll try to get my hands on Walking Two Moons asap.

    Mumsy: Aw, thank you! And lol, I wish I had that kind of superpower :P

    Jen: Yes, exactly!

    Pardon My French: And clearly I have to do much first time reading! I had no idea she was so loved among book bloggers :)

    Emily: Will read Walk Two Moons as soon as I can find it!

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