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'Blue'          Send a link to a friend

[OCT. 11, 2006]  "Blue," by Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Boyds Mill Press, 2006, 197 pages, ages 10 and up

Review by
Louella Moreland

World War II is becoming a distant memory in the minds of most Americans today. Children may have had a great-grandfather who fought in Europe or the Pacific. Maybe they have spoken to a great-grandmother who worked in a factory or planted a "victory garden." The memories of that time in our history are beginning to fade. The building of the majestic World War II monument in Washington, D.C., helped commemorate the sacrifice of our soldiers during that horrific time.

However, Joyce Moyer Hostetter's new novel, "Blue," deals with another devastating problem that Americans faced during that uncertain time period of our nation: polio.

Through the eyes and dialogue of a 13-year-old girl named Ann Fay, we are transported back to one difficult year in the lives of a rural North Carolina family. We first meet the Honeycutt family at the train station as the father is boarding a train to fight in the war. He has given Ann Fay the task of being the "man in the family" while he is gone, along with a pair of his overalls that seem too big for her to fill. Ann Fay also notices an African-American family saying goodbye in the same way, making her realize for the first time that "coloreds" are no different from her own family.

A few months after struggling with added work and responsibilities, Ann Fay is faced with an even more tragic event. Her 4-year-old brother contracts polio and is rushed to the emergency hospital at Hickory, where he dies. More hardships follow, with Ann Fay also coming down with the dreaded disease.

Ms. Hostetter deals with three enormous issues in "Blue": a family torn apart by a world war, a mysterious and frightening disease that suddenly struck healthy children with devastating consequences, and racial discrimination in the World War II-era South. Any one of these topics would be enough in its own right for a novel. Although Ms. Hostetter does a good job of juggling the first two, she falls short on the third.

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The dialogue is convincing, and most characters are well-developed. I felt as though I really knew this family and their neighbors by the end of the story.

Another reason I enjoyed the book was the inclusion of the polio subject. Growing up in the 1950s, I had a classmate who wore leg braces as a result of catching the disease. I can remember the fear my parents had of this silent killer. Measles, mumps, scarlet fever and chickenpox were all familiar problems not so many years ago. Few authors handle these subjects in a book for children.

Since the author provides notes and a bibliography at the end of the novel, the book may encourage young readers to research more about the polio epidemic and the people who were instrumental in treatment and immunization.

Although real people who worked at the Hickory, N.C., hospital were also presented throughout the novel, they seemed to be thrown into the plot without contributing to the story line. The symbolic connection of the book's title may also stretch a young reader's understanding, and some of the issues of the story were dealt with a little too smoothly.

Even with its drawbacks, "Blue" is an interesting and heartwarming story, worthy of a leisurely read, clearly depicting an era unfamiliar to children today.

If you are wondering where the title came, from you will need to read the book. You may check out this book, and others about this important era of our history, at the Lincoln Public Library, 725 Pekin St.

[Louella Moreland, youth services librarian, Lincoln Public Library District]

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