Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On My Honor

Pic courtesy
On My Honor
Written by Marion Dane Bauer
Published by Yearling books, an imprint of Random House Children's books.
Ages: 8-12, 12+

Peer pressure. Everyone faces it, children more so. It looms large in their small world, often leading to literally life-and-death situations.

Twelve year old Joel and Tony are 'best friends', very different in temperament, often squabbling and bickering, but inseparable.

Tony- exuberant, fun-loving, risk-taking, with a devil-may-care attitude. Joel, the more cautious of the two, introspecting, sensitive to undercurrents in a situation, a foil for Tony.

On the way to a cliff-climbing trip, (which Joel had earlier tried to wriggle out of, hoping his father would not give him permission to go), the irrepressible Tony had decided he wanted to go swimming in the river instead. The turbulant, treacherous Vermillion river, known for its rapids. Inspite of having promised his father 'on his honor', that he would not do anything dangerous, Joel falls for the bait when Tony accuses him of being over-cautious.

"Sometimes, Bates, you sound just like your old man."
Joel could feel the heat flooding his face. "What's wrong with that?"
" 'Be careful in that tree, son,' " Tony mimicked, " 'you might get hurt. Watch Bobby when he crosses the street. Those drivers never pay any--' "
Joel had been moving closer to Tony as he spoke, and now he gave him a hard shove.

Tony keeps needling Joel, driven by bravado and dare-devilry, goading him to challenge Tony to a swimming race to a sandbar a hundred yards away. With terrible consequences.

Peer pressure. Wanting to fit in. Misplaced confidence. A sense of being indestructible. A devil-may-care attitude. Inability to lose face. Unwillingness to be perceived as a 'coward' when being just sensible and careful. A recipe for disaster?

Marion Dane Bauer has written a fast-paced, racy, but sensitively told story based on a real incident that happenned in the town where she grew up, at the very same place as described in the book. A very short, 90 page book that is very hard-hitting.

Bauer's potrayal of Joel's effort to get out of what is very clearly a fool-hardy venture, without losing face- first hoping that his father would not give his permission, then trying to make Tony see sense is very realistic. It happens ever so often in our own kids' peer-group. The disaster comes on unexpectedly, chillingly, with everything else seemingly the same, unchanged.

The potrayal of Joel's survivor guilt is heart-wrenching. The disbelief, denial, anger, dissociation, grief, a desire to hide, not face the parents, an obsessive 'washing-off of the stench of the river', are powerfully written. It helps, that his father is understanding, trying to help him let go of the paralysing, mind-numbing grief.

The wracking sobs flowed out of him like water.
His father held him for a long time, saying nothing, until Joel's tears came without sound and his breaths were quivering gasps. Even then, his father held him.
"Do you believe in heaven?" he asked at last. "Do you believe Tony's gone there?"
"I don't suppose anybody knows," his father answered gently, "what happens after...I believe there's something about life that goes on. It seems too good to end in a river."

It is a Newbery Honor winner, 1987, and the William Allen White Childrens' book award winner, 1989. A wonderfully written book, that chills me on each reading. Given a thumbs-up by A.

Crossposted here.


Vibha said...

Looks like a very apt book addressing a lot of issues that the kids face. Remembering my own similar age years, I can say that it does take a lot from a child to stand for what he/she believes in, when that particular thing is now the favourite of his/her peers. Now as a mother when I see my kids growing up and getting stuck at some points while passing some easily, my faith in Geeta's philosophy gets even firmer - effort is in our hands, the results are in His.

Choxbox said...

Sent a chill up my spine S. Sounds like powerful stuff - a bit like The Bridge Across Terabithia.

Hi-five to A.

sandhya said...

@Vibha: Very true. One cannot be too careful, though, can one? I wish I had your equanimity. Me, I'm a worrier!:)

@Choxbox: Yes, it did remind me of 'The Bridge to Terebithia.'

What scared me about this book is that it brought home the realisation that no matter how vigilant we are as parents, kids can and do get into trouble, and that there is not much we can do about it, except for putting the right message across as often as we can, being there for them, and trusting them to do the right thing.

ansh said...


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