Friday, August 7, 2015

BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX


Review of BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX by LAUREL SNYDER

Though marketed as a fantasy story, this book doesn’t really need the magical element. At its core, this is a story about family dynamics. Yes, preteen Rebecca discovers an enchanted bread box that will grant any wish as long as she wishes for something that can fit inside the bread box. Yet the story fixates on what the bread box can’t grant: Rebecca’s wish for a happy, united family.

Rebecca liked her life. Then one day her mother abruptly packs Rebecca and her little brother in the car and drives them far away from their father and their home to stay with their grandmother. Rebecca misses her house, her school, her friends, and, most of all, her dad. She resents her mother for tearing the family apart and initially wallows in self-pity. Then she starts looking at the world through other people’s perspectives and, by extension, matures quite a bit.

I commend the author for a brilliant example of POV (point of view). This is Rebecca’s story, so we read it in Rebecca’s perspective. Yet the reader will likely pick up on subtle clues that Rebecca, believably, misses. She’s at an age and maturity where she unconsciously makes observations without thinking through what those observations mean. While Rebecca feels her mother has absolutely no reason to leave their father, the reader might tally up the clues. Rebecca’s mother is a nurse and she often comes home late, after work and after running errands, whereupon she promptly sets about preparing dinner and tidying the house. Meanwhile Rebecca’s father can usually be found in front of the TV with a beer. While Rebecca wholeheartedly believes his consistent claim that he’s looking for work, the evidence isn’t convincing. From Rebecca’s standpoint life was good. From the reader’s standpoint, one can see how her mother felt worn to a breaking point.

Rebecca has a nice relationship with her toddler brother Lew. I don’t read very many books where the protagonist has a toddler or infant sibling and even fewer where the relationship feels so moving. Lew makes Rebecca a better person. She’s a little self-centered, though in my opinion absolutely no more so than most kids her age. However, it’s frequently her impulse to care for Lew that tugs her from her egocentric point of view and makes her consider the others around her.

I already know I love Laurel Snyder’s writing, from my earlier review of UP AND DOWN THE SCRATCHY MOUNTAINS. It’s modestly wise, often taking familiar insights and producing a refreshing phrasing. As one example, I really like the line: “sometimes...a person goes so far down a road, they can’t find the energy to walk back the other way.”

I didn’t like how much passive voice I found in this book, though. However, that’s really my only criticism and with a first person narration I consider passive voice more forgivable than with third person.

BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX provokes some ethical debates, though avoids the didactic pitfalls all too common in books for younger readers. Being primarily concerned with her own wants, Rebecca doesn’t think through her actions at first. She’s quick to stew about anything negative and yet snatches up anything good that comes her way without asking any questions.

Once again Snyder delivers a middle reader book worth reading at any age.

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