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Children's Bookshelf

RABBLE STARKEY, Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin: $12.95; 192 pp.; age 10-up).

July 12, 1987|BARBARA BOTTNER

In a deeply felt, generous and wise voice still bright with love, Rabble Starkey, age 12, tells us about life in her small Appalachian town the year she and her mother, Sweet Ho, move in with the Bigelows.

This is a world where affection, kindness and understanding triumph over every affliction. Mrs. Bigelow, who has a smile on her face even when she sleeps, one day performs a self-styled baptism in the creek and tries to drown Gunther, her baby boy. No matter, we will not hate her for it. It is Mrs. Bigelow's subsequent retreat to a hospital, in fact, that triggers the story, and poor sweet Gunther, who suffers from ringworm, impetigo, diaper rash and poison ivy and is the homeliest child to ever be born in Highriver, thus becomes part of Rabble's new family. Most important is Veronica Bigelow, Rabble's age, with whom Rabble shares a boundless and idyllic love.

There are bad people here, at least people who have bad moments, and it's these folks who provide much of the story: Norman Cox, also 12, shoots a pebble into the 93-year-old eye of Millie Bellows, herself an old crank. But they all undergo reformation, and the troubles Rabble lives through are the perfect size. It's as if, chewed real carefully, those aches could turn into the poignant remedies that make it possible to someday grow up.

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