Monday, May 11, 2009

Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It

10-year-old Brendan Buckley has a notebook with CONFIDENTIAL written on the cover in big black letters. It's where he writes important questions, things to think about and try to answer, because Brendan is a scientist. And scientists, according to his fifth-grade teacher, ask questions.

Brendan has a lot of questions. Questions about dust, and where it comes from. Questions about rock collecting. Questions about what makes people be mean to other people if their skin color is different, and why it bothers him when a little girl says that his mother can't be his mother because, with his dark skin and his mother's light skin, they "don't match." He even has questions about whose bladder can hold more, his or his best friend Khalfani's - and, true scientist that he is, he devises a way to find out about that one.

Then, just as his summer vacation begins, he discovers the biggest question of all. While his grandmother is having her hair done at the mall, Brendan makes a beeline for a mineral and gemstone exhibit. He's excited because he wants to start collecting rocks during the summer, and he's having a fascinating discussion with the president of the rock club when his grandmother appears and yanks him out of the mall so fast his head spins. It turns out that the man is Ed, his mother's father: "That man was my grandpa. The grandpa I'd never met. The grandpa who was 'gone.'"

Brendan applies his scientific mind to the questions raised by this unexpected encounter. Why won't his mother talk about her father? Why had they never met, when he'd been living only miles away Brendan's entire life? What could make a father and daughter refuse to see each other for at least ten years? He tugs at the tangled knot of questions with admirable persistence. He applies skills learned at school (observation, forming a hypothesis, predicting, testing it, etc.) as well as at Tae Kwon Do, which he and Khalfani have been practicing with dedication for several years. I love how he relates all the things he learns to other things in his life, such as geology:
Slate had once been an easier-to-break rock called shale, but heat and pressure had turned it into something stronger, the book said. More than once, Grampa Clem had told me that black people had been made stronger by all the trials they had been through. That sounded just like metamorphic rock, I thought. I rubbed the slate between my fingers.

Brendan is a curious kid, intelligent, thoughtful and kind, and very, very determined. The characters surrounding him - his parents, his slightly wacky but kind grandmother, his grandfather Ed, his best friend - they are all fully dimensional characters that, together with Brendan's honest, unique voice, make for a touching, gripping novel, one that poses questions that are sure to make readers think. It is easy to see why this book won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award.

Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It by Sundee T. Frazier (Yearling, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "...the book shows him to be curious, eager to learn, sincere, and genuine. He's a thinker. But he's also a feeler. I love that I do. I love the way we see the world through his eyes."

4 comments:

  1. This sounds like something I really would have enjoyed as a kid :)

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  2. Ladytink - It really does have a lot of appeal. :-)

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  3. This books sounds like a good one to read to my 10 year old son. Great review!

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  4. Thanks, Alaine - I hope you both enjoy it as much as I did!

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