Thursday, August 11, 2011

Loners, Runaways and Drifters

Here are two illustrated novels that I recently found buried in the children's section of the public library. I'm sure that neither has been checked out for some time. They are both realistic novels from the 1960's. Even though these are books for pre-teens they border on the coming-of-age sentiment found in YA novels.
A Likely Place by Paula Fox, illustrated by Edward Ardizonne. Macmillan, 1967.

In this short and humorous story, Lewis is a nine year old boy who wants to run away. He is fed up with the overbearing nature of his parents and teachers and yearns for something else. When his parents go away on vacation he meets a couple of eccentric characters including an old man who he identifies with. Mr. Madraga is old enough to be Lewis' grandfather. But like Lewis, he wishes that he was allowed to make his own decision instead of constantly being told what to do. The friendly interaction between these two loners is both funny and touching. It is interesting how this book shows that those closest to you (ie:family) can be the ones who understand you the least. Lewis learns that by helping others, he can learn to help himself. By assisting Mr. Madruga in writing a letter that will help him gain some independence, Lewis also begins his education towards freedom. The title, A Likely Place, refers to the cave where the two meet in order to help solve their problems.
The Loner by Ester Wier, illustrated by Christine Price. D. McKAy Co., 1963.

A young drifter without a name, friends or family ends up in Montana. He is found by a strong shepherd woman named Boss who cares for him. Eventually, he is able to aid her and become a shepherd himself. Unlike in Joseph Krumgold's award winning book about shephards, And Now Miguel... the women in The Loner are all strong, independent women who play a prominent role in the story. The book has parallels to the story of David and Goliath from the Bible. The boy is given the name David when he chooses his name at random from the Holy book. Later, he is able to hunt down a bear which has stolen a prized sheep. Boss' son was killed by this bear and David gains new respect in his justice. More importantly, David learns that life is more worthwhile when he has people to care for him and he is able to care for them back. The simple act of receiving a name sets David on a course of having a purpose in life. He makes mistakes in trying to become a shepherd. In the process, however, he learns new responsibilities and respect from others that may enable him to become an adult.


On the flipside, here are two extremely nihilistic and unusual adult tiles from the 1960's about people on a journey.

Malcolm by James Purdy. Atheneum, 1966.
This novel was later adapted into a play by Edward Albee and has had multiple printings, so maybe it doesn't quite fit into the "discard" theme of this blog. Nonetheless, I love this book that concerns an unusually innocent boy sitting on a bench waiting for something to happen. --- The edition shown here is my favorite: a rare paperback from the 60's with a painting by Richard Powers (who is known mostly for his work in science-fiction).--- Through meeting with a series of unusual characters including a mortician, a midget, a prostitute a wrestler, a billionaire, Malcolm remains mostly unscathed, but the world around him is changed by his demeanor alone. Only when Malcolm becomes an adult himself does he face a similar downfall and cruel fate encountered by his strange friends.

I Know What I'm Doing by Hans Koningsberger. Simon and Schuster, 1964.

I picked this one up because the photographic cover and font reminded me of many young adult hardcover books from the late 1960's. While the character in the book is young, this is strictly a novel meant for adults. It chronicles three sexual relationships that a young woman has between the ages of 17 and 21. Detached from her family, the young woman strikes out on her own and travels from London to New York and then to California. She sleeps with her London housemate, an older man that is a client of her workplace in New York and a musician in Los Angeles. The book randomly alternates between the 1st and 3rd person in between short 1 to 3 page chapters. In this way, we are able to learn the intimacy of this woman's often selfish thoughts, see inside her head, and observe as to whether or not the decisions she makes are for the best. I love the sense of freedom, abandon and honesty of this book that presents an uncertain and unromantic view of love that seems as though it's going to turn into a cautionary tale but never quite gets there. This book was also reprinted in 2005 by New South, Inc. I believe they are a company dedicated to reprinting all of Koning's work (he was quite prolific).

I am also interested in reading his first novel from the 50's, based on this beautiful cover artwork alone.
He also wrote one novel for children that is illustrated by Richard Cuffari, one of my favorite illustrators of the 1970's (see below). Cuffari also illustrated such books as The Cartoonist by Betsy Byars and My Dad Lives In A Downtown Hotel by Peggy Mann.

And finally, to balance things out a bit, here is an actual YA novel by Barbara Wersba that best reflects the 1960's, the time period in which most of the books listed above were written.
Run Softly, Go Fast by Barbara Wersba, Atheneum, 1970.

In this very angsty novel David Marks, a 19 year old New Yorker, has issues with his father. David is an artist and feels that his father is too business oriented to understand his interests. When his dad forbids David from seeing his best friend, accusing him of being a homosexual, David loses his influence over this friend who later gets killed in Vietnam. David blames his father for this death.

In an attempt to escape from his father's control, David cuts off all communication and leaves. He moves to the East Village in search of freedom. He paints furiously, falls in love with a girl named Maggie and gets swept away in drugs and the lives of other hippies. When David's father dies and he still has not come to terms with their relationship, he realizes he must make some sort of reconciliation in order to move forward.

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