cover image Alida's Song

Alida's Song

Gary Paulsen. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32586-8

Paulsen revisits the terrain of various autobiographical writings (Father Water, Mother Woods; Eastern Sun, Winter Moon; and sections of My Life in Dog Years) for this affecting story of a pivotal summer. The 14-year-old protagonist, who is named only as ""the boy,"" has been sliding slowly toward trouble--nearly flunking school, working odd jobs early in the morning and late at night, and sleeping near the furnace to avoid his perpetually drunk parents. So when the boy receives a letter from his grandmother Alida, asking that he come work on the farm, owned by two Norwegian brothers where she is employed as a cook, he is quick to accept. Paulsen brings his great skills as a naturalist and his enthusiasm for the outdoor life to descriptions of the boy's adjustment to the orderly farm, from vivid descriptions of an encounter with hostile geese to the work of milking cows and tending fields. The characterizations are deeply affectionate if a little Waltons-ish: Alida and the two farmers are strong, self-contained and yet keenly attuned to the boy's unstated needs. Several narrative frames neatly set off the effect of the farm interlude: the book begins as the protagonist, grown and in the Army, pays a visit to Alida, and it ends when he, ""old enough to have grandchildren of his own,"" discovers that there was more behind that special summer than he had known. It's Paulsen's classic blend of emotion and ruggedness, as satisfying as ever. Ages 10-up. (June)