Turnabout Children, Mary MacCracken (Signet: $3.95). Five to 10 million children suffer from learning disabilities of one form or another. In this moving, provocative account, Mary MacCracken discusses her experiences in helping children handle and often conquer their handicaps. The book is primarily composed of the case histories of five such children. Joey is hyperactive as well as dyslexic and copes by playing class clown; Eric is withdrawn and has trouble pronouncing words; Ben stutters, he can't spell and has difficulty with auditory memory (remembering what he hears); Alice suffers from dyscalculia (disorders in arithmetic), and Charlie has trouble with written language. In each case, MacCracken takes the reader through the analytical testing and discusses her cooperation with families and schoolteachers in an effort to teach the children to read and write and also to build their self-esteem.
MacCracken was born blind in one eye, reversed letters and couldn't tell right from left, and the book is rich with the special sympathy and insight of a teacher who has suffered some of her pupils' hardships. As she puts it, "Few understand the courage it takes for a child to return to a place where he failed yesterday and the day before and, in all probability, will fail again the next."
Saint, Christine Bell (Washington Square Press/Pocket Books: $6.95). Rubia (Spanish for Blondie), nee Susan Thompson and the heroine of Christine Bell's inventive, comic first novel, left the United States to live with her husband, Frederico, on his family's estate in Santa del Rio, a fictitious South American village. By the time the novel takes place, Rubia has lived in her adopted country 15 years, and it barely makes more sense to her now than on the day she arrived. She keeps busy by running a lingerie store, caring for her two daughters and fending off one bizarre in-law after another. When her husband's mother develops cancer, it falls to Rubia to make up the medicine (the doctor left the instructions in English) that the nurse administers to the old woman. Rubia discovers that by adding an extra portion of cocaine into the compound, La Senora's condition improves temporarily and that she's well enough for the two of them to sit together in conversation while the rest of the family is asleep. The alliance between the transplanted American and the dying matriarch forms the novel's center. La Senora advises Rubia on her husband's philandering (castrate him, the woman says), the running of the estate, and on simple survival in this alien, superstitious land.
But such a literal recitation of this novel's central event fails to suggest its brilliant ironies and wild humor. Bell, though American and no great expert on Latin American custom (for example, she mixes up her characters' last names, not realizing that the Latin patronymic is the first, not the second part of the surname: Garcia , not Rodriguez in Garcia-Rodriguez ), has invented a world that is wholly original and very, very funny.
My Young Master, Opie Read, introduction by Wayne Mixon (Louisiana State University: $30; $10.95, paperback). Two boys, one white, the other mulatto, grow up together on a pre-Civil War plantation in Kentucky's Bluegrass country. The two are inseparable; when the white boy is sent to boarding school, the mulatto boy accompanies him as his slave and secretly studies with him. This novel, a highly idealized portrait of race relations in the antebellum South, was first published in 1896, the year the Supreme Court passed the Jim Crow ruling sanctioning racial segregation.
"My Young Master" is told from the point of view of Dan, the young mulatto slave. He's resented by the other slaves for the preferential treatment he receives; he can be presumptuous with his owner's father, but never really receives punishment when he misbehaves. When Dan kills the bigoted husband of one of Master Bob's sisters, he knows he'd be hanged, but, regardless, confesses the entire incident to his young master. Bob invents an alibi for Dan and takes the blame hi1836279148culprit. Being white, he's acquitted by showing just cause. Dan's gratitude to Bob for saving his life causes him to turn down an offer for help in running away. When the Civil War breaks out and the white boy joins the Confederate army (though Kentucky remained part of the Union), the mulatto boy chooses to accompany Bob against his own better interests. When he tells Bob that he's decided to go along with him, Bob says, "You are a Negro, but you are a gentleman." These words would have been highly controversial in the late 19th Century, not for their racism but for their suggestion that a black slave was comparable to a well-born white. Dan later finds out that he and Bob are half-brothers.