Thursday, August 2, 2018

Book Review: Goodbye, Chicken Little by Betsy Byars (1979)

Ever since his father died in a coal mining disaster, Jimmie Little has been very fearful. When, on a dare, his uncle Pete drunkenly walks out on thin ice and drowns, Jimmie witnesses the whole thing, and he and his mother both blame Jimmie for not stepping in to prevent the accident. When the surviving family members gather in memory of Pete, however, it becomes clear to Jimmie that he doesn't need to be afraid of facing life head-on because he can draw strength from his relatives.

This book is one of the author's weakest. Though the subject matter should be very emotional, the writing style feels very detached, and it's hard to get into Jimmie's mindset. I was thankful in some ways that she didn't dwell more on the horror of Jimmie's uncle dying before his eyes, but I also felt that for an author who usually shows such empathy for her young characters, she didn't really have any for her protagonist this time around. While it is certainly comforting to surround oneself with family, it seems like, after losing both his dad and his uncle to accidents, Jimmie should probably need something more than a single family reunion to bounce back. The stakes were just too high in this book; Byars does better when the drama of a story takes place within typical everyday occurrences.

If you need a book about grief and loss for kids, you're much better off with either On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer (which is short like this book,  but deeper) or the quintessential Bridge to Terabithia. Even big Byars fans, of which I am one, will find this book difficult to like.

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