Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Good-bye, Billy Radish

After reading The Circle of Blood, I did a little research on Alane Ferguson. I discovered two interesting things: first, her website could use some help; second, her mother is also a prolific young adult author, Gloria Skurzynski.

Good-bye, Billy Radish is my first Skurzynski novel and probably my last. The writing is adequate, but I found myself suffering from a mild case of ennui while reading the book.

The story should have been gripping. Hank is a preteen living in Pennsylvania during WWI. His family works at the local steel mill, and he is terrified at the prospect of working there when he grows up.

Over lunch on Saturday, though, contributor notaconnoisseur asked me what Billy Radish is really about. I pondered the question and came up with very little. Ultimately, I settled on two themes; however, I may have forced the interpretations because I wanted the book to have something deep to contribute.

First, I suggest that Hank struggles with the idea of heroism. Are only soldiers heroes? Can reluctant soldiers, or soldiers with questionable characters, still be heroes? And are those that stay behind—the men working in the steel mill—cowards or heroes?

Second, the book shows that even during war, death comes in many forms: battle, industry, influenza.

I shouldn’t have to work so hard to find meaning in a children’s book—and maybe I shouldn’t expect to find something deep. Good-bye, Billy Radish is an adequate read, and I respect Skurzynski for taking on an important historical issue. Overall, though, it is far from a thrilling book.

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