M.E. Kerr -1978
What happens to all of those moderately successful short fiction books from decades past? I can tell that some of the titles one sees at Borders or on the library shelf will not live on past their first printing, but where do these stories go? Are they stored away in giant publishers’ archives or are they gathering dust on shelves of no-longer children or filling up boxes at thrift stores and rummage sales? Surprising that fiction could follow the way of fashion, trends ruling the tides of the market. A story seems less ephemeral than a cut of fabric to me.
Pretty good, I liked this book. One strength is how the author approaches her “imparted morals” on what makes a good or bad person and how to grow up and get your act together. I especially like the parallel drawn between the assumption that a German in Germany was responsible at least passively for the conflict and the feeling in the US during Vietnam that we should “support our own” and that any fight that our country enters must be a good one. Her novel implicitly raises the debate over the prosecution of someone for a past crime even though they may have changed into a different person. Otherwise it is fairly short and simple; I wanted more in the way of development and complexity. summary from back cover of Bantam Book edition: “Buddy wanted Skye Pennington more than anything. She was smart, pretty, sophisticated. But she was also very rich. Ashamed of his working-class parents, he took her to visit his wealthy German grandfather. Buddy had never met Grandpa Trenker – he had divorced Buddy’s grandmother years ago, and the family said he was an eccentric snob. But Buddy liked him: he listened to opera; he told wonderful stories; when he impressed Skye Pennington, Buddy loved him for it. But one day a man was whispering that Trenker’s real name was “Gentlehands”; that he was hiding a stark and sinister part. Suddenly, Buddy’s perfect summer began to fall apart…
“In my books for young adults, I updated everything that happened to me in my teens, to make my stories more contemporary, probably not trusting the idea I could interest today’s kids in yesterday’s happenings. I knew I could interest today’s kids in yesterday’s kids, because they’re the same kids…” From Me Me Me Me Me: Not a Novel by M.E. Kerr. She has written many books in different genres (with five pen names) and has received much acclaim for her young adult fiction. She does do a good ending, “I remember being depressed by all the neatly tied-up, happy-ending stories, the abundance of winners, the themes of winning, solving, finding — when around me it didn’t seem that easy. So I write with a different feeling when I write for young adults. I guess I write for myself at that age.” teenreads.com
It’s definitely worth watching the aria O Dolci Mani from the opera “Tosca” referenced in the book (pretty cool it’s also 1978).
Yalsa tunes in with some good comments, and wandering through the blogosphere’s references to Gentlehands.
Read Roger says this: “There was recently a discussion on childlit about the definition of irony as presented in Karen Cushman’s recent novel The Loud Silence of Francine Green, and novels such as M. E. Kerr’s Gentlehands, Brock Cole’s The Facts Speak for Themselves, and Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable depend upon young readers being able to detect an ironic stance, a narrative strategy not all teen readers are ready for. (I’ve always maintained that Catcher in the Rye is popular with teens and deadly celebrity stalkers because they don’t Get It.)” Some teen readers do not perceive the irony, but I would argue that 90% or better do “get it.” I think today’s teens are smarter than people give them credit for, their parents don’t talk to them in that way or care to talk about such things, in school the opportunity costs of talking in class make it more beneficial to stay quiet and never express or try too hard to think deeply on these things, and low expectations lead to some of the mindless texting and blogging that everyone sees as telling of the teen population.
Peter Sieruta at Collecting Children’s Books chimes in on his favorite author, ME Kerr of course, and her books, “Because it is used so frequently in schools, GENTLEHANDS (1978) is among the author’s most popular and best-loved novels. [It] raises powerful moral questions but provides no easy answers for the reader. A stunner.”