Friday, June 8, 2018

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

It's 1972 and Flora Smallwood, age 9, has been living in Rosetown, Indiana her whole life. Her mother always said that Indiana had balance and Flora couldn't agree more when she thought about Rosetown. And although Flora loves everything about her hometown, her very favorite place is reading vintage books in the purple velveteen chair in the window of the Wing and a Chair Used Book Shop. Luckily, she can do that three days a week while her mom works, helping shop owner, Miss  Meriwether.

Now, however, as fourth grade begins, Flora is feeling rather off balance. She and her parents are still getting over the death of their beloved dog Laurence, the kids returning to school seem to have found a new sense of confidence over the summer that has escaped Flora, and her parents have just told her that they would be separating.

Flora does have a best friend Nessy, short for Vanessa. The girls have been friends since the day they met at the Rosetown Free Library, when Flora was 5 and Nessy was 4, and they often play together on weekends. Now, though, Flora has made another friend. Yury sits behind her in school and come from the Ukraine. All three get along just fine.

Rosetown may be one of the gentlest, slowest moving books I've ever read and I couldn't put it down. Watching Flora's year and the quiet, ordinary events that unfold in her life is reality fiction at its finest, feeling like a breath of fresh air. Ordinary things make up Flora's life (as they do for most of us), like when she and Nessy begin piano lessons at the Four Part Harmony Music School, and Flora is only an adequate piano player, while Nessy seems to be a talented natural. Or deciding what to name the stray cat she and Yury find, finally settling on Serenity. She's a cat who lives up to her name, providing quiet companionship and some balance to Flora. And, after Yury is given a puppy he names Friday, Flora accompanies them to the Good Manners For Good Dogs dog school every Saturday just because she is his friend.

There are not ugly fights between her parents before or after they separate. For and while, Flora finds herself a little at odds to have two rooms of her own in different houses, but her parents work together at providing her with some sense of security, and no matter what, Flora is always sure that they both love her.

Is Flora's view of everything about her life and hometown too unrealistic? I kept waiting for irony to show up, and it just didn't. But this is a story about Flora, not the adults around her and, for all the reader knows, they may be very aware of that is happening in the world outside of Rosetown. After all, Rylant hasn't forgotten life outside Rosetown. There are mentions of Vietnam and the war is lingering in the background, and Flora's parents had actually met because of anti-war protests.

And Rosetown did get me thinking about my world and childhood home at Flora's age - Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY, with wonderful summer trips to Coney Island and Sunset Pool, evening family picnics in Prospect Park and adventures with a best friend I still have. These were the kinds of things that kept me balanced, even though I know that Brooklyn in the 1970s was anything but idyllic, and I can remember sometimes my sense of balance was pulled out from under me.

So, as I read, I asked myself just who is this book for and by the end, I realized it is perfect for young readers who have difficulty dealing with change in their lives. Rosetown shows that with love and support Flora (and all of us) is able find the confidence and certainty that she lacked at the beginning of the book, restoring a now-more-mature sense of balance to her life. Rylant's beautiful lyrical language reads like a textual lullaby, calming and reassuring, stressing the importance of home, a supportive family and friends in life, a message that which will hopefully stay with sensitive readers long after they finish the book.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Beach Lane Books

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