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'Walk Softly, Rachel'     Send a link to a friend

[MAY 19, 2004]  "Walk Softly, Rachel," by Kate Banks. Frances Foster Books, 2003, 149 pages.

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Walk Softly, Rachel
by Kate BanksReview by Linda Harmon

This is a story about a girl who used to have a brother. Her parents never talk about him. He died when she was 7 years old. She is now 14. She knows very little about Jake, including how he died. She shares a name with her mother (Rachel Two) and her grandmother (Rachel One). Her father is a surgeon and her mother is a judge. On the surface they seem to be fine, but both are struggling in their own ways. Her mother is always distracted, and her father won't have his picture taken or look into a mirror. Rachel laughs when she wants to cry and cries when she wants to laugh.

They live in a community that used to be a mill town. Although the industry of the town has changed, milling is still deeply ingrained in the lives of the people. The old mill seems to be the glue that holds the town together. Rachel says bread and baking are "cataloged in their DNA." Each year there is a Bread Festival. The shops close down and everyone in town bakes a loaf of bread. At sunset an award is given for the tastiest loaf and everyone eats bread until they can't eat any more. To close the festivities, the graduating seniors disguise themselves as bakers covered in flour and march through the streets to commemorate the bread strikes of the late 1800s.

As the story opens Rachel is mourning the absence of her best friend, Adrian. His family moved to a remote part of Africa where communication is very difficult. It is this loss that starts her thinking about other losses, like the brother she never really knew.

Jake's room is exactly as it was the last day of his life. Rachel decides to go in and see if something in it will help her know him better. She discovers his journal and begins to read. She is so intrigued by his writing that when her parents come home she takes the journal and hides it in her room.

 

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During the time Rachel is feeling the loss of Adrian and discovering her brother, she becomes close friends with another troubled young man, Bowman. His parents are close friends with Rachel's parents. She likes to be with him but is troubled by Bowman's constant fascination with fire and his smoldering rage. He also struggles with his parents' expectations, and right before graduation they have a blowup. That night a historic landmark is burned to the ground.

In the pages of Jake's journal, Rachel sees a sensitive, troubled young man. He wishes to be the normal person that he appears to be and is extremely critical of himself. "Some people are born with too many fingers or too much hair. Jake was born with too many feelings," he writes. He seems to find joy only in running and his best friend, another boy, named Fisher. He loves Fisher deeply and at the same time is frightened by this love, possibly fearing that he is gay. Rachel eventually discovers the secret of Jake's death and confronts her parents. With the truth out in the open, they talk about his death for the first time.

This is a story about young people of privilege. Their parents have money and the young people have the promise of the best education money can buy. They seem to have everything and yet suffer the same insecurities as other young adults, possibly more, because they have been given so much. As the story closes you are left with a feeling a hope for this family.

Kate Banks does a great job of showing how secrets divide a family but truth, no matter how painful, unites. She is also the author of "Dillon Dillon," her first novel, and many award-winning picture books.

This book is recommended for age 12 and up due to subject matter and some language.

[Linda Harmon, Lincoln Public Library District]

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