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© Bella Stander

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"Stories That Look Forward and Backward in Time"
Chicago Tribune
March 5, 2000

by Bella Stander

10 Stories About the Future
by Michael Cart

Now that our Y2K fears have proved groundless, it's entertaining to see how people viewed the future way back in 1999. Michael Cart and the writers he polled must have been feeling a bit anxious about things to come, for their stories are rife with dislocation, doubt and insecurity. Even so, the consensus seems to be that we'll continue muddling along as we've been doing, with the occasional individual rising above circumstances to demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit. Belying the book's title, two authors take a retrospective view: John Scieszka traces the seeds of man's inhumanity to man back to 33,001 B.C. in the darkly humorous opener, "Homo…Sapiens?" while James Cross Giblin uses elegantly spare language in "Night of the Plague" to evoke the terror and wonder of a young monk ministering to the dying at the end of the first millennium. In the near future (by now the near past), "The Other Half of Me" by Jacqueline Woodson poignantly chronicles an African American girl's search for her father. Rodman Philbrick's "The Last Book in the Universe" and Katherine Paterson's "The Last Dog" posit creepy far-future dystopias. Both have protagonists who bravely seek their own path, as does the narrator of the final offering, Cart's "Starry, Starry Night," whose message, like those of the other tales in this thought-provoking anthology, is a timeless one.

Second Sight:
Stories for a New Millennium
by Avi et al.

Though it has a generally more optimistic outlook and contains some terrific stories, this compendium compares poorly to Tomorrowland due to its short length, poor production values and lack of introduction. Certainly a proofreader's and copy editor's "second sight" should have caught the errors that are liberally sprinkled throughout the first six of these eight original tales. The volume gets off to a lame start with Oswin's Millennium by Avi, who, like James Cross Giblin in the preceding book, has an alternate take on "new millennium" and sets his work in a 10th century monastery. Any similarity ends there, for this fable is as unbelievable as it is ungrammatical and misspelled. Avi deserves a horselaugh for his fractured "Olde" English and such lines as, "The end of the world is neigh."

Going from the ridiculous to the sublime, there is The Beginning of Time by Janet Taylor Lisle, which traces the repercussions of a family trip throughout a girl's life. Clay by Rita Williams-Garcia is a stunning evocation of the voices of older African American women as they watch over their loved ones through the years. On the other hand, Horizon, by Michael Cadnum, narrated by a teenage girl who visits her estranged father after he serves time for sexually assaulting a minor, is unsettling yet opaque. What, one may ask, was that all about? Richard Peck's piquant end note, The Three-Century Woman, proves that though bedridden, some oldsters can still run rings around the young.

Time Capsule:
Short Stories About Teenagers Throughout the Twentieth Century
Edited by Donald R. Gallo

Veteran editor Gallo (Sixteen, etc.) gracefully and succinctly sums up the major events of each decade of the 20th century in introducing 10 corresponding tales by as many top-flight authors. Richard Peck (see preceding review) demonstrates the versatility of his imagination with The Electric Summer, a first-person narrative of a farm girl's journey to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Jeanette Ingold captures the tenor of World War I-era Dallas in the excellent Moving On. Though this story deals in part with African Americans, by doing so it highlights the book's major flaw: none of the tales is told from a black perspective. In fact, the only non-white viewpoint is found in the powerful Waiting for the War by Graham Salisbury, about two native Hawaiian boys who befriend a young Texas recruit during World War II. The Depression piece, Brother, Can You Spare a Dream? by Jackie French Koller, strikes one of the few false notes in its use of the shopworn trope of story-as-school-writing-assignment. Chris Crutcher's Fourth and Too Long characteristically has an athlete narrator, here a football player in a small 1960s Northwest town who deconstructs exactly why his coach won't tolerate his long hair--and why the Native American coach at a rival school will. Despite its emphasis on the dominant culture, this is an engaging and informative collection, one to be savored by older adults as much as young ones.

Real American Girls:
Tell Their Own Stories
by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

This winsome little gem will captivate anyone who's ever found the historical notes at the back of the American Girls books as interesting as the fictional stories. Ranging on topics from "Best Friends," to "In Trouble," to "Becoming a Woman," here are first-person writings by girls of all hues and backgrounds from the 1750s to the 1950s, many accompanied by contemporary photos. As good as any author may be at imagining the past, it's well nigh impossible to come up with a passage as fresh and authentic as this one from a nine-year-old's 1881 essay on George Washington: "When he was 13 years old he made 100 rules for himself to use to learn how to be polite and to behave well. Maybe when I am 13 years old I will make some too only I dont believe I will need so many. 25 or 30 will be enough I guess…He died of laryngitis and I have had it twice and never died yet." Though some of the entries are by unknowns, the Hooblers, award-winning authors of more than 60 books, also offer the youthful thoughts of such notables as Martha Carey Thomas, a founder of Bryn Mawr College, who closes the book with a sentiment for the ages: "a woman can be a woman and a true one, without having all her time engrossed by dress and society."

© 2000 Bella Stander

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