Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Review: After the Goat Man by Betsy Byars (1974)

The construction of a new highway in their West Virginia town has forced Figgy and his grandfather to move from their mountain home to a different house closer to town. As he explores his new neighborhood, Figgy meets Ada and Harold, who are best friends. Ada has recently been through the loss of her mother, and Harold struggles with his love for food, which causes problems with his weight. After hearing on the news that Figgy's grandfather, The Goat Man, has returned to his old house to attempt to prevent its demolition, the three kids band together to venture into the mountain and convince the old man to come home.

I purchased After the Goat Man from a used book sale based solely on my complete faith in the writing abilities of Betsy Byars. As typically happens with a Byars novel, I felt immediate deep affection for her characters, and I read the entire book cover-to-cover in about an hour. Though the story takes on a major issue - the difficulties of accepting modern progress - it does so on a very small, relatable scale. Byars sets her tale within the lives of these three children, using such ordinary events as a Monopoly game, a spot on the TV news, a bike ride, and an accident as the key plot points which propel the story. She helps young readers to care about The Goat Man not by trying to make his gruff character more palatable, but instead by establishing his importance to Figgy and his friends. Byars also never tells the reader what to think about the new highway; she paints a picture of the situation and allows readers to draw their own conclusions. Byars trusts young readers to understand complex issues, and this is what makes her such a talented and appealing writer for kids, even today.

After the Goat Man is an excellent study in friendship, family, community, and hardship, and though it doesn't tie everything up neatly (Byars is not one for perfectly tidy endings), its conclusion feels hopeful and satisfying. I am just never disappointed by anything she writes, and this was book was no exception. 

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