Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book Review: The Blossoms Meet the Vulture Lady by Betsy Byars (1986)

A year has passed since Junior Blossom broke his legs and Pap went to jail. Now Junior is working on a brand-new, top secret project - a coyote trap. While the rest of his family is busy, Junior takes his trap into the woods to set it, only to accidentally trap himself inside. To his surprise, he is rescued by an eccentric recluse known as Mad Mary, whose kindness toward Junior sparks a new, unlikely friendship.

This second book about the Blossom family is very similar in content to the first book, but without being utterly repetitious. Though Junior is once again separated from the rest of the family, the circumstances are quite different this time around, and the overall message is less about the uniqueness of the Blossom family and more about their acceptance of a person like Mad Mary whose way of living is so unorthdox and even intimidating. The cast of characters remains small in this second book, which makes it possible for the reader to spend a bit of time inside each character’s mind. Maggie and Vern frustrate Junior by not being there to question him about his trap, but they show their interest in their brother’s quirky inventions in their own way. Ralphie, Junior’s hospital roommate from the first book, reappears, filled with love and admiration for Maggie, while Vern longs for a best friend of his own. Mud, the family dog, is back as well, and even he has a role in the adventure when the empty trap snaps shut on him, too. Pap rounds out the family with his very specific personality and his own backstory regarding his years in school with Mad Mary. Just spending time with these characters is a treat. It almost doesn’t matter what happens in the book; just looking in on this well-developed family is enjoyable all on its own.

This book features deep characterization, wonderful dialogue, and hints of mystery and adventure. It can appeal easily to boys and girls, and it’s short enough that less enthusiastic readers might be willing to give it a chance over other, longer books available on their reading level. Readers will be encouraged to consider the meaning of concepts like family and friendship, and to examine their own prejudices against both little brothers and those who are in any way perceived as “different.” The story is by turns introspective and action-packed, and the outcome of Junior’s accidental trapping of himself is completely satisfying. Readers will leave this story anxiously waiting to find out what Junior will build next and what sort of trouble he’ll find himself in.

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