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Chicken is the name Jimmie Little gave himself because of the fears he developed the summer after his father was killed in a mine accident, but readers will find Jimmie is only sensible, as compared with his mother's beloved, less cautious brother Pete. For here it's not his father's but his uncle's death that is bothering Jimmie, Pete the clown having insisted on walking across a thinly iced-over fiver because of a bet in a bar. Jimmie is in the crowd watching when it happens, and though he runs to the water's edge shouting for Pete to come back, his mother's first reaction is to blame him for not making Pete stop. To make things worse, Jimmie's subsequent brooding ("Did I do enough?") offends his insensitive friend Conrad, and the two boys fight. When his mother suddenly recovers and decides to throw a family party--a sort of celebration of Pete--Jimmie is unable to join in the merriment until, drifting outside and viewing them through the picture window, he sees the fun-loving family as his mother does, unique individuals to cherish. It's a stance Byars has taken all along, cherishing the quirky traits that would be just as easy to scorn. Nevertheless, this crucial final revelation hasn't half the conviction, say, of Jimmie's earlier realization that he doesn't like Conrad. And Byars never really reconciles Pete's tragic childishness with such amusing family foibles as his mother's inept driving and her outspoken 92-year-old uncle's crotchets. Still, Jimmie's feelings throughout are represented in depth, and revealed in flashes of insight that hit the mark; and the story hums with the currents that flow between him and the others.
Pub Date: March 1st, 1979
ISBN: 0064402916
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1979


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