Hi! Welcome to this week’s edition of Newbery Pie. We’ll be discussing the 1967 Newbery Winner, Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly. Like always, Sara will kick things off with her review.
After her mother dies, Julia leaves town and goes to the country to live with her aunt Cordelia, who also becomes her teacher. This is one of what we now call “coming of age” novels. It spans a decade of Julia’s life (from age 7-17) in less than 200 pp. To pull off such a feat requires an amazing writer, and Hunt handles it expertly.
I, Juan de Pareja was also somewhat of a “coming of age” novel, but whereas that was a chore, this one was a delight. I’m sure the difference in reading experience was mostly due to my ability to make a connection with the main character. Julia reminded me of heroines from my favorite books from my childhood. Like Laura Ingalls, she attends a one room schoolhouse for many years. Like Jo March, she has a close, relationship with her sister, although not one completely free of jealousy. And like Anne Shirley, she has to navigate the changing feelings of a relationship with a classmate over time.
In terms being appropriate for elementary readers, there were a couple of shocking moments in the book, and I am convinced that many of these 60s Newbery books would be labeled “YA” if published today. There is an almost rape scene in the woods, and a girl winds up leaving town to stay with an aunt. Then there is the very open discussion of an alcoholic uncle.
All in all, Up A Hill Slowly is an excellent book. Thankful for the Newbery Challenge, Benji and this blog because otherwise I never would have read it. I give it a delicious 5 Newbery pies!
Two weeks ago, if you would have stopped me in the street and said, “Quick! Name an Irene Hunt novel!” I would have automatically responded with, “Across Five Aprils!” I’m not even sure I knew Up a Road Slowly existed until I saw that it was next on the Newbery list. First I want to say that I was very impressed with the writing in this novel. It’s only 186 pages in paperback, but there is a total, but subtle character transformation in Julia the protagonist. I remember finishing the book and thinking, how did she change that much, that subtly in so few pages? The answer is simply that it’s really good writing.
Julia isn’t a very nice girl when we first meet her, but as someone very wise once told me. Show me a bitter person, and I’ll show you a hurt person. Life has dealt Julia a hard blow. Her mother has died of the same sickness that left her bedridden for a while, and her dad, in the beginning is totally closed off from her. She is sent away to live with her aunt who, gradually throughout the book, with the help of Julia’s own experience, teaches her how to be a kind, loving human being.
One of the fun things about reading through the Newbery winners is going back and looking at the reviews of friends who have read them before. Sometimes I’ve disagreed with what a few of them said, but never as much as with this book. Two of my friends totally smashed the book because of Julia’s childhood meanness, and one of them even called Julia an “evil person.” Anyone who knows me knows that I like my characters flawed. I like to see them change and learn from their mistakes, but that’s not always necessary. What is necessary is having real characters. They can’t all be kind and wonderful all the time. That’s not believable. Who wasn’t mean to someone as a child. Who doesn’t wish they could go back to their immature, bratty self and beat some sense into them? The beginning of the book reads kind of like a confessional to me, and instead of turning me off to the book, I appreciated it.
Later, when Julia’s uncle is critiquing her writing samples, he tells her, “your villains have nothing but venom in their souls, and your sympathetic characters are ready to step right off into Paradise without one spot to tarnish their purity.” I wanted to shout and give Uncle Haskell a high five and an amen. We don’t need characters like that. We need real characters who go through real ordeals. It’s almost like Hunt saw the issues people would have with prepubescent Julia and added this part in there to defend her book.
All in all, I thought it was really good. My only problem was with the whole Danny thing. You could see it coming from a mile away, from the beginning of the book, really. I give it 4 out of five Newbery Pies.
Next up: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler