CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 8 . . . .December 8, 2006
New York, NY: Delacorte Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2006.
261 pp., cloth, $21.00.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Gregory Bryan.
“You dope,” grunted Beau. “They didn’t call him Old Yeller ‘cause he yelled. He was a yellow dog. He was Old Yellow.”
“No fooling?” asked Danny. “Man, you know everything, Beau.”
Beau shrugged modestly.
“I wish you didn’t have to be changing,” said Danny. “What’s going to happen, I wish it didn’t have to.”
“What do you mean?” asked Beau, making it sound like one long word, whadayamean. “What’s going to happen?”
Iain Lawrence knows how to tell a story. His latest novel for young readers, Gemini Summer, is destined to become a much-loved classic. With a mood not dissimilar to Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, Gemini Summer leaves the reader with a lasting, perplexing, mix of sweetness and sorrow.
Young Danny River and his older, teenage brother, Beau, live in an old gray house in a valley named Hog’s Hollow. The best of friends, Danny and Beau mean the world to one another. Unbeknown to the two boys, the shadow of the Vietnam War threatens to darken their idyllic summer holidays. Determined that no harm shall befall his family, the boys’ father, Old Man River, begins to build a fallout shelter, digging a huge pit in the front yard. The townsfolk stop by to stare and to wonder. Little does anyone know that Old Man River’s digging will soon leave a pit where once was a happy, vibrant family.
Blonde-haired Danny has a charm about him that people find irresistible. “Oh, that Danny—isn’t he a sweetheart?” women say. Danny wants nothing more from life that to own a dog that he can love. Beau’s world, however, revolves around dreams of space exploration. To ensure he doesn’t miss anything, he even plans his “illnesses” around the rocket launches at Cape Canaveral. Beau watches, breathless, as the Gemini space missions are covered on television. So awed by the majesty of what he sees, Beau is moved to tears. The astronaut, Gus Grissom, is Beau’s hero, a fact not lost on Old Man River. Beau will not let anyone say a negative word about Grissom. “You shut up!” Beau screams at Danny one day, his face purple and “his eyes bulging like a devil’s.” Danny had the audacity to question Grissom’s courage. “Take it back!” Beau demands. “Gus Grissom isn’t scared. He’s never scared. You got no right to say it.”
In real life 1967, after the Gemini summers, Grissom was to lose his life in Apollo 1. In the world of Lawrence’s novel, however, this tragedy serves only as an after word—the final, 56th chapter of the book—to the tragedy that has preceded it.
The short chapters and fast-paced nature of the writing makes this the type of book perfect for many less capable and perhaps less enthusiastic middle school readers. Boys and girls will enjoy the superb writing and, above all else, a story well told.
Gemini Summer is a great book. This is one not to miss. Books of this quality come along only rarely.
Gregory Bryan teaches children’s literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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