Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech's latest novel for young people is The Great Unexpected. Magical realism? Fairy tale? Mystery? It's an unusual story aimed at the eight to twelve-year-old market, but it's an intriguing story with no real answers. Creech's turn of phrase is magic itself.
Twelve-year-old orphan Naomi Dean lived with Joe and Nula in the small town of Blackbird Tree, an unusual town that seemed to have a large share of orphans and "unfortunates". Naomi's best friend, Lizzie Scatterding, was also an orphan, living with two people while hoping they would someday adopt her. While Lizzie was optimistic, a singer who dreamt of possibilities, Naomi was down-to-earth, and a little fearful. With her withered arm from a dog attack, she sometimes feared she brought bad luck to those around her.
So, it was no surprise that Naomi would think she was responsible when a boy fell out of a tree, knocked her on the head, and then appeared to be dead. And, when the boy claimed to be named Finn, and told Lizzie and Naomi odd stories, Naomi became fascinated with him. But, Nula, who had come from Ireland, warned Lizzie about boys named Finn because she had known one in Ireland.
Naomi tells her own story, while there are alternating chapters that tell of a mysterious woman "Across the Ocean," Mrs. Kavanagh, who lives with a companion. Mrs. Kavanagh loves a good mystery, and is plotting a secretive revenge with the assistance of a lawyer named Mr. Dingle. Creech then mixes together these stories, sometimes stories of tragedy and death, with unusual accounts of magic and a series of boys named Finn.
Friendship, family, loss, unexpected futures. They're all part of Creech's The Great Unexpected. It's an unusual story with no real answers. But, it doesn't really matter in a book with poetic phrases and magic. Naomi's guardian once said of Lizzie, "That girl could talk the ears off a cornfield." Lizzie talked about "standing on the moon". Standing on the moon in your imagination meant "Your worries would seem so small, maybe invisible." Maybe so for Lizzie, who seemed to find it calming. Naomi found it "A scary trip to the moon."
It's an unusual trip filled with insecurity, loss, and magic. Take a trip into The Great Unexpected with Sharon Creech.
Sharon Creech's website is www.sharoncreech.com
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech. HarperCollins. 2012. ISBN 9780061892332 (hardcover), 226p.
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