THE BEET FIELDS

MEMORIES OF A SIXTEENTH SUMMER

Using his lyrical voice, Paulsen (Alida’s Song, 1999, etc.) presents a true-to-life, thinly veiled biographical portrait of a boy’s 16th year. This boy (all that Paulsen names him) runs away from his alcoholic mother when she makes sexual advances toward him and he finds a job thinning beets for North Dakota farmers. He befriends the Mexicans with whom he works, and learns how they make their hard lives bearable with friendship and the simple pleasures of food and music. When offered a steady summer job by one farmer, he takes it because he’s attracted to the farmer’s daughter. He never spends his money and accumulates hundreds of dollars, all of which a sheriff’s deputy takes. Hitchhiking to escape from the deputy, he eventually signs on with a traveling carnival and learns how to fleece the rubes. The book ends with an account of his first sexual experience. Paulsen’s simple prose gives the story a dream-like quality that smoothes the edges of its harsher events. It’s the truth of memory rather than unrelenting realism, although the truth of the events comes through. The sexual content may make the book inappropriate for less mature readers, but it’s essentially an optimistic, coming-of-age story and a new take on the life of this popular author. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-32647-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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BURIED ONIONS

Eddie, a young Mexican-American scraping by in the mean streets of Fresno, California, counts four dead relatives and one dead friend in the opening, in-your-face lines of this new novel from Soto (Snapshots from the Wedding, p. 228, etc.). In bleak sentences of whispered beauty, Eddie tells how he dropped out of vocational college and is attempting to get by with odd jobs. His aunt and friends want him to avenge the recent murder of his cousin, but Eddie just wants to find a way out. Everything he tries turns soura stint doing yard work ends when his boss's truck is stolen on Eddie's watchand life is a daily battle for survival. This unrelenting portrait is unsparing in squalid details: The glue sniffers, gangs, bums, casual knifings, filth, and stench are in the forefront of a life without much hope``Laundry wept from the lines, the faded flags of poor, ignorant, unemployable people.'' Soto plays the tale straightthe only sign of a ``happy'' ending is in Eddie's joining the Navy. The result is a sort of Fresno Salaam Bombay without the pockets of humanity that gave the original its charm. A valuable tale, it's one that makes no concessions. (glossary) (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-15-201333-4

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1997

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WHAT THE MOON SAW

When Clara Luna, 14, visits rural Mexico for the summer to visit the paternal grandparents she has never met, she cannot know her trip will involve an emotional and spiritual journey into her family’s past and a deep connection to a rich heritage of which she was barely aware. Long estranged from his parents, Clara’s father had entered the U.S. illegally years before, subsequently becoming a successful business owner who never spoke about what he left behind. Clara’s journey into her grandmother’s history (told in alternating chapters with Clara’s own first-person narrative) and her discovery that she, like her grandmother and ancestors, has a gift for healing, awakens her to the simple, mystical joys of a rural lifestyle she comes to love and wholly embrace. Painfully aware of not fitting into suburban teen life in her native Maryland, Clara awakens to feeling alive in Mexico and realizes a sweet first love with Pedro, a charming goat herder. Beautifully written, this is filled with evocative language that is rich in imagery and nuance and speaks to the connections that bind us all. Add a thrilling adventure and all the makings of an entrancing read are here. (glossaries) (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-73343-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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