Sunday, July 3, 2016

Book Review: On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer (1986)

Despite feeling wary of making the trip, Joel begs and pleads with his father to be allowed to bike to Starved Rock with his best friend, Tony. On the way, Tony, a known risk-taker, decides to take a detour to the river. Once they're both in the water, Joel dares Tony to swim out to the sandbar, assuming he is a strong enough swimmer to make it. Tony accepts the challenge, but moments later, Joel looks around and realizes Tony is gone. At first, he is sure Tony must be playing a trick, but then reality sets in: his best friend has drowned. Now Joel is faced with the impossible task of telling his parents and Tony's the fateful consequences of their poor decisions.

Along with Bridge to Terabithia (which I have since read) this was a book I avoided in childhood because I knew it was a death book. I was very anxious about death as a child, and reading a book like this back then would have cost me many nights of sleep. I do have the sense that I read it at some point, or at least skimmed it, because the story felt very familiar, but I don't have a more specific memory than that. My best guess is that it was during library school when my children's literature professor only allowed us to read Newbery books, but again, I'm not certain.

In the book, Marion Dane Bauer uses few words to make a strong impact on the reader. Each scene of the story is described so vividly that the reader really experiences all of Joel's emotions as they occur to him. Joel's initial behavior after realizing what has happened to his friend may not be the most mature or even the most appropriate, but it is very true to how a young kid would react in such a shocking and unexpectedly terrible situation. Kids will understand Joel's reasoning as he struggles with what to tell the adults, and they will feel a sense of comfort when he does finally come clean and his father proves himself to be a supportive, strong, and kind parent.

On My Honor is probably not a pleasure read for most kids. It's not really a tear-jerker per se, so even kids who like a good cry may not choose to read it on their own.  The story is really an exploration of the way one small decision can have an irreversible impact on the life of a child, and the moral obligation people have to do the right thing even in the face of great tragedy. I do think it is healthy to have kids read books about death - perhaps if I had done so, I would have worked through my fears instead of obsessively researching every book I encountered to make sure no one dies before even considering it. For that reason, I think this book works well in academic settings and homeschools, and in families in general, to prompt discussion and help kids talk about their questions regarding mortality.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea what this book is about! Thanks for the heads-up. It sounds like a worthwhile read.