Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Vacation

I just finished Polly Horvath's The Vacation. What an interesting read. It's original, funny, and just a little bit odd. If you're looking for something out-of-the-ordinary for the middle-grade crowd, this is your book.

Eleven-year-old Henry is our young narrator. He's a calm and accepting child who has to struggle with the fact that his family is, essentially, crazy. His mom, Katherine, tries to become a Mormon so she can travel to Africa as a missionary. When that doesn't work, she leaves for Africa anyway on her own improvised mission. Henry's dad follows soon after and Henry is left with his two aunts, Mag and Pigg.

Mag and Pigg decide to pull Henry out of school and go to the beach for a Vacation. Henry thinks they've left for the weekend, but Mag and Pigg have other ideas. They set off across the country, following the whims first of Mag (who, having recovered from a serious blood illness, decides upon the trip initially). They visit many states from Virginia to Texas and meet all sort of crazy people.

Henry is apprehensive of Mag and Pigg at first, because let's face it, they're a bit eccentric. They argue all the time, haven't traveled in twenty years, and make decisions based on very little information. But over time Henry becomes used to his aunts and even begins to have fun with them.

The Vacation shows just how enlightening leaving your comfort zone can be, even for a child. When Henry arrives at their first destination, the beach, he looks at the ocean and thinks, "I was suddenly aware not just of all those people in Europe looking in our direction over the waves, wondering about us, but of all the billions of things moving and alive beneath the water...Sometimes you can get so closed into your little corner of the world you forget all the stuff like the ocean going on without you thinking about it, while you breathe somewhere else."

Horvath's narration is clear-eyed and not a little bit irreverent. There is no happy ending, beyond a less-than-promising "Welcome to Iowa," but Henry becomes resigned in a good way to his less than perfect family. When you begin reading The Vacation, you think, "Goodness, where is the child?" But Henry's presence and voice grow throughout the novel and you grow up with him.

Highly recommended. I'm going to kid-test this one on my nine-year-old reader and I'll update in the future.