By Sharon Creech
Mini-Summary: Domenica Santolina Doone, Dinnie for short, grew up traveling from place to place with her poverty-stricken family, so her father could find new job opportunities. When Dinnie’s brother is put in jail and her older sister eloped with a marine and got pregnant, her mother ships Dinnie off to Switzerland to live with her aunt and uncle in the hopes that Dinnie would have a better life. There, Dinnie attends a multi-cultural school and learns valuable life lessons about acceptance, friendship, and family.
Some themes at play within the novel: Multiculturalism, Poverty, Friendship, Acceptance, Coming-of-Age, Family, Identity, Optimism, Discovery
Some Thoughts (Spoiler-ish, fair warning):
I bought this book merely because it was written by Sharon Creech, one of my favorite YA authors [as I've probably said too many times here already]. I knew nothing about it except that it fell somewhere in between Children’s and Young Adult Lit, and I thought the title was cute. I started reading it with very high-hopes, but only ended up struggling through a story I had a difficult time staying interested in.
Though it took me a few weeks to plow through it, it was actually a very charming story, useful for teaching pre-teens about tolerance of other cultures and adapting to new living situations. It did come off a bit preachy at some points, which was what turned me off of picking the book back up for a while. There are one or two chapters about when the students at Dinnie’s academy learn about “disaster” for Global Awareness Month. They talked about AIDS epidemics, war, and child abuse. And all the students in Dinnie’s class collectively became activists, going on hunger strikes and going on tirades guilting all the adults in their lives to do something about war-torn Rwanda and global warming. They all had nightmares en masse and couldn’t function anymore. Now, as important as these issues are, and as critical it is for people to be aware of them in order to help do something about them, I was very annoyed by the way Creech sermonized over it. The students’ extreme reactions felt forced because Creech was trying to make a very transparent point. I’m definitely not saying that these issues should not be addressed in YA lit, but they should not be squeezed into one or two chapters of collective rage with such obvious intent by the author.
The rest of the book was pretty sweet; Dinnie made strong friendships with people of other ethnicities, learning that race or language doesn’t make a person alien from you. She missed her family in America, but embraced her new, extended family in Switzerland. By the end of the school year, she adjusted to her new surroundings without too much heartache. Her friend Lila “the Pistol” actually underwent the most realistic adjustment period, disliking the food and assuming the worst about her classmates because she felt like an outsider. Creech uses Lila as an example of how not to behave when moving somewhere new, but in my eyes Lila reacts like most of the people I met my freshman year in college. Overall, it was an okay read. I wouldn’t consider this one of Creech’s best, and now I understand why it’s one of her lesser-known titles.
“I was still pretty much in bubble mode. It seemed that all around me was a smooth bubble, clear enough to see through, but strong enough to keep me inside. It was like a huge transparent beach ball. I imagined pores in this bubble ball that could let in streams of things from the outside, so I could examine them and poke them back out again if I didn’t like them” (10).
“In New Mexico, I’d heard my mother tell Aunt Sandy, ‘Dinnie will be fine, just fine. She’s very adaptable.’ As I stood there in that busy Zurich train station, I was sorry I was so adaptable, and I promised myself that I was going to stop being adaptable” (17).
“When we’d get home, my mother would always say, ‘Catch anything?’ Sometimes we had caught a few fish, but mostly we hadn’t, and at those times, my father would say, ‘Caught the sun! Caught the day!’ My mother loved that; she loved it to pieces. She’d kiss his cheek and say, ‘You are a prince among men’” (20).
“At that moment, I loved Switzerland completely. I loved it with every hair on my head and every eyelash and cell. I felt as if this was my home, and I was no longer a stranger. Instead, I was like the snail who carts his home along with me, but also my family, too” (261).
My Rating: 3/5 Stars
Information about my copy for my own records:
Publication: Paperback, Scholastic Inc., First Scholastic Printing, 1999
Genre: Young Adult Lit., Coming-of-Age, Children’s