“He was interested in everything and almost everybody, and the way he looked at things with fresh eyes made me see them fresh too.”
Do you believe in the theory of the “7 basic plots”? I think there’s something to it – especially after hours of “Text and Image Semiotics” classes in college – but I’m not sure if they’re limited to the ones in Christopher Booker’s book. I’d like to officially add one to the list: Stranger coming to Town. This plot is one of my favorites, and no, I’m not a westerns fan. What I am attracted to is the idea of the agent of change, who with the power of his personality, shakes up the ‘ordinary’ world of the sleepy town. It’s all about microeconomics!
I might actually post a list of favorite “Stranger coming to Town”s… off the top of my head I would add Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles (which actually starts with the line “Lymond is back.”). Pride & Prejudice, The Secret Garden, The Enchantress of Florence. Could Rhett be the ultimate Stranger? Jane Eyre? Any others you can think of?
Anywhooo, all this to say that Belle Prater’s Boy is another good example of the Stranger coming to Town, but packaged for kids. I can’t remember why or when I added it to my wishlist, but it was probably when I was looking out for recommended Southern Lit. The book is very short, very charming and very southern. It has none of the racial themes common to books set in the South in the 50s, but it’s still about difference and acceptance: in appearance, in wealth and in education.
At 5am on October 1953, Belle Prater leaves her bed and vanished from the face of the earth. Her son, Woodrow has to leave the “shack” where he’s lived all his life and go to his grandparents’ in town. “Town” is Coal Station, a village in the mountains of Virginia with only two streets, but where social hierarchy matters as much as in Antebellum Savannah or Charleston. Next door lives his cousin Gypsy Arbutus Leemaster. Gypsy is still trying to cope with the death of her own father, so both cousins can help each other in dealing with the loss of a parent. Also, Gypsy and Woodrow’s moms are sisters with a very shaky relationship because Gypsy’s father (the other Stranger coming to Town of the book) was once Belle’s boyfriend.
Woodrow is the new kid in town, but he puts his sense of humor to good use and in no time he makes a name for himself in school and in his new family. He reminded me of Calvin from Calvin & Hobbs, because he always comes to mind when I think about the kind of kid I’d like to have (Alex, beware of what you ask for!!). Like Calvin, Woodrow is fascinating because he’s confident in what makes him different and becomes loved for it. I was also reminded of Leslie from Bridge to Terabithia – see the type?
The book unravels juicy mysteries and secrets from the past, but it’s worth it just because of this most peculiar of Strangers. A natural-born story-teller with crossed-eyes, who knows exactly where chiggers have their nests.