A white boy narrates his upbringing by a solitary old white man in a tiny cabin in the woods.
The unnamed narrator, a boy of “thirteen…or fourteen, maybe fifteen,” has lived all his remembered life by Caddo Creek with an old man named Fishbone. In the evenings, Fishbone sips moonshine and tells the boy stories: of how the boy as a baby came to live with him (three different versions) and of Fishbone’s own life—how he got his name, women and love, fast cars and running moonshine, and getting shot in Korea during the war. Gradually the boy comes to understand, as he spends his days closely observing the natural world and hunting alone in the forest, that Fishbone’s stories are a map to a way of thinking and living. Paulsen’s writing is lyrical and his story allegorical in its exploration of how a young person growing up in virtual isolation who is given time and space can develop into the person he needs to be. As such, it’s a pointed and necessary antidote to today’s plugged-in, nature-deprived childhood. Where it skews, however, is in its easy romanticizing of running moonshine, drinking and driving, lack of formal education, and an alternate, unsubstantiated version of the Whiskey Rebellion.
A beautifully written elegy to coming of age in bygone days that, unfortunately, oversimplifies complex issues. (Historical fiction. 12-15)