cover image SPINNING THROUGH THE UNIVERSE: A Novel in Poems from Room 214

SPINNING THROUGH THE UNIVERSE: A Novel in Poems from Room 214

Helen Frost, . . FSG/Foster, $16 (93pp) ISBN 978-0-374-37159-3

In this collection of brief, deceptively casual poetic monologues, Frost (Keesha's House ) brings to life the voices and spirit of a fifth-grade classroom as she spotlights each member of room 214. Themes such as the disappearance of Jon's bike ("Without my bike, my legs are empty. It/ has tricks you have to know to ride it right") and newcomer Shawna's struggle to fit in are replayed from different viewpoints, allowing readers a glimpse of characters' internal conflicts and relationships. Cast slightly apart from her classmates is artistic Naomi, whose haikus about nature ("What's that squirrel doing?/ Naomi, pay attention! / Nose twitch—tail swish—gone...") provide effective transitions between subjects and moods. Like Naomi, Mrs. Williams, the teacher, remains on the sidelines, wistfully observing her students. While jealousies, rifts and misunderstandings among classmates abound, the fifth-graders' ability to unite is poignantly conveyed after one student's father is killed. In a detailed afterword, Frost explains the exact poetic forms used in each entry (in Part I, anything from sestina to rondelet, in Part II, an acrostic whose "armature" is a phrase uttered by the same speaker in Part I). Readers may be surprised at the complexity of rules governing the writing, so naturally does the author seem to capture the poetic essence of the children's voices—and she makes it look like so much fun that readers may want to try out some of the forms themselves. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)