AUTUMN STREET by Lois Lowry
Kirkus Star

AUTUMN STREET

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Autumn Street recaptured, in narrator Elizabeth's enveloping memory of the months when she, her sister, and her pregnant mother live with her Philadelphia grandparents while her father is off in the Pacific fighting World War II. Six-year-old Elizabeth is not cowed by the sedate, well-appointed home, or by her tight-lipped step-grandmother who has never lived with children; but she is more comfortable in the kitchen with wise Tatie--and with Tatie's fatherless grandchild Charles, Elizabeth's age, who seems to live a far more interesting life although on Autumn Street he's not allowed in the front of the house. Next door are the Hoffman twins, viewed through a haze of gossip and suspicion (their father, of German descent, disappeared at the beginning of the war; a spy?)--and through the backyard hedge, as Elizabeth and Charles see Noah kill a cat, abuse his pet duck, and torment his terrified, withdrawn brother Nathaniel. Elizabeth remembers Noah's dying of pneumonia, and the afternoon when she and Nathaniel, left to tend him while his mother goes for medicine ("Don't let him cry," she tells them), play noisily to drown out his cries. The neighborhood also has its demented derelict, a seemingly harmless fixture until, in the novel's terrible culmination, he slits Charles' throat in the dreaded woods at the end of Autumn Street: ". . . there was danger there, and we both know that, we could feel it in the snow and the silence, as small as we were." But Elizabeth is dizzy then with fever, Charles refuses to take her home, the children have just fought because some older boys upset Charles with a racial attack--and so she leaves him in the woods with the unknown danger. Noah's death earlier (and his perverse behavior), the loving, ample-bosomed black maid, the close but unequal black-white relationships, and the inevitable tragedy that Noah's death foreshadows--all give the story a touch of the ambience we associate with Southern fiction. Just once or twice, Lowry gives Elizabeth an egalitarian thought that would seem to be beyond her years. More often, she gives her a child's open sensitivity, a child's way of processing occurrences--her grandfather falls in the hall as the clock strikes; she is told next day that he had a stroke; and so she associates his illness with the clock, which she is sure is waiting to strike again--and a moving ability to recall an experience in its totality. At Thanksgiving dinner, having embarrassed her great-aunts with personal questions, Elizabeth is hauled off to the bathroom where her mother confirms that Grandfather once broke an engagement to Great-aunt Philippa. Elizabeth in turn confesses her love for Charles. "There was a kind of rapture, standing in the small, immaculate bathroom beside my mother, smelling her perfume, feeling the slippery, perfect oval of pale blue soap, and then the rough texture of the thick towel, talking about secret things.
Pub Date: April 23rd, 1980
ISBN: 0395278120
Page count: 198pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1980




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