Eli the Good
by Silas House
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: YA
It's the summer of 1976 and ten-year-old Eli Book is dealing with a lot: his father's flashbacks of the Vietnam War; his teenage sister's rebellion and anger at their parents; his free-spirited aunt's presence in their house, a source of conflict that the children can't quite understand; and his best friend's tumultuous family life.
As the hot Kentucky summer stretches on, Eli learns a number of important things about love, history, and friendship, all of it set against the backdrop of the U.S. Bicentennial.
I chose to read this book because I needed to get started on the YA Historical Fiction Challenge. This isn't the type of book I usually read. I do like some historical fiction, but the setting of this one is fairly recent. To be honest, I almost gave up after 75 pages or so. I'm used to books having more plot, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But I found that I didn't really want to give up on this one, since I'd been drawn in by the characters. I think that's actually the point here; Eli the Good has some nice themes, and the excellent characterization held my interest and conveyed those themes well, even after I accepted that there wasn't going to be much plot to speak of.
I really enjoyed the writing in Eli the Good. There was a certain sense of nostalgia for my own childhood that bubbled to the surface as I read Eli's descriptions of that summer in 1976, a time and a place seen through the innocence of a child's eyes. Though this story took place before I was born, there was a sense of familiarity that really drew me in; it seems that things have really only changed in the last ten years or so. When I was a child, we still played outside, pushing the boundaries of the curfew-by-streetlight, rolling in the grass and letting it prickle on our skin, and studying the myriad bugs we managed to capture (and then release, of course). This is a young adult title, and I'm not sure how much of this would be familiar to today's teens... so how much they can relate to is uncertain. But the themes in the book -- about family, friendship, and growing up -- are pretty universal.
Despite the slow start, I really enjoyed Eli the Good. By the end, I'd come to know the characters well. I can't say that I liked them all or even agreed with their choices, but I think that was part of the message the book was trying to convey.
Overall: 4.14 out of 5