Glory Be will enjoy meeting Theolonius Monk Thomas, 12, a boy who only wants is to stay in Destiny, play the piano and have a place to call home again. Unfortunately, his Uncle Raymond seems to have other ideas about all this.
It's May 1974 and Theo has already had enough loss in his life. His parents were killed in a car crash when he was a baby, and now he has lost his beloved grandfather and his grandmother must go live in a nursing home. His Uncle Raymond arrives from his isolated cabin in Alaska as Theo's next of kin guardian. Uncle Raymond is a Vietnam Vet who resents Theo's parents for their anti-war protests and who has some pretty tough PTSD going on. First thing he does is whisk Theo away from everything he knows for a job in Destiny, Florida.
There are two things Theo loves - baseball and playing the piano. No sooner does he arrive at the Rest Easy Rooming House run by former Radio City Rockette Miss Sister Grandersole, but he hears the sounds of a beautiful piano somewhere in the house and determines to find it. Turns out, Miss Sister gives dancing lessons in a studio in the Rest Easy and she is bowled over by Theo piano playing.
And, as luck would have it, the first kid he meets is Anabel Johnson, daughter of the mayor and a girl who really knows her way around Destiny and who also loves baseball. In fact, she loves baseball more than the tap dancing classes she is supposed to be taking with Miss Sister and never shows up for.
With the end of the school year nearing, Theo and Anabel decide to work on a class project to celebrate Destiny Day and the 100th anniversary of its founding. Focusing on baseball, they are convinced the some pretty famous baseball players, including Hank Arron of the Milwaukee Braves, had lived in the Rest Easy during spring training.
But just as happily as Theo settles into his new life in Destiny at the Rest Easy, quickly endearing himself to Miss Sister, and in school, Uncle Raymond is already looking for another job away from there. And he has forbidden Theo to play the piano because of bad music memories during war protests by Theo's parents. Not only does Theo want to stay in Destiny, but he is supposed to play for Miss Sister's Destiny Day tap recital, and present the baseball project with Anabel. To make matters worse, he is accused of stealing the money collected to buy Miss Sister a gift for her work on the recital. Could things get worse? Yes, they can, especially when Theo discovers who the real thief is.
The Way to Stay in Destiny is a beguiling coming of age story, narrated in the first person by Theo. Theo is a very likable, chatty kid, though you can certainly feel his vulnerability in some of what he says, especially when he talks about things working out better than you, as a reader, know they will. His hope that Uncle Raymond will suddenly change is pretty hard to read about, since his uncle is so closed off from the world.
Uncle Raymond's anger at the world for the way returning Vietnam Vets were treated is so sadly, so terribly understandable. Just as Scattergood describes, they were spit on, cursed at, called names like baby killer even after experiencing on of the ugliest wars this country has been in. His anger may be justified, even expectable, but what is really noticeable is the lack of help available at that time for vets with this level of PTSD. If it were there, surely someone would have mentioned it. Uncle Raymond has not real interest in Theo and feels no guilt when he disappears for period of time.
Luckily, Uncle Raymond in counterbalanced by Miss Sister, who sees the world through some very lightly-tinted rose colored glasses. She immediately recognizes that Theo's ability to play the piano by ear is a very special musical gift and begins to teach him to read music, encouraging him to play her piano whenever he wants. And she is the one who introduces him to his namesake - the famous jazz pianist Thelonious Monk.
The Way to Stay in Destiny is about family, friendship, loss and determination, and populated with wonderfully quirky, somewhat flawed characters who, because they are not perfect, make it that much easier to relate to them.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book is an ARC sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press