Earnest and bighearted but too pat overall.

Shaky Man

Set in Texas in the 1960s, this YA novel teaches tolerance through the experiences of its young protagonist and narrator, “Tops” Parsley.

In his short debut novel, writer Parker gives us Tops; his friends Mickey Jackson, Joe Ellis, and Rex Johnson; and Shaky Man, named for his inherited palsy. The story—but for the court scenes in Waco—takes place in the idyllic town of Tonkaway on Tonkaway Creek. The boys are crazy for baseball and other sports; Sunday means church, etc.—but there is a skunk in this woodpile. Two, in fact. One is the intolerance shown to Shaky Man, whom the kids have made into a boogeyman who lives alone and reputedly starves his dogs and eats children (!). Shaky Man is in fact poor material for an ogre or even a curmudgeon. He is a man with a tragic past who welcomes kids rather than eating them. The other, more serious, issue is Mickey’s African-American skin. Again, most of the characters haven’t a prejudiced bone in their bodies, but there are those—“knuckleheads” Tops’ dad calls them—who are not so enlightened. This comes to a head when Mickey’s dad, a janitor at Baylor, discovers the body of a murdered professor and of course becomes the prime suspect. Things look really grim until Shaky Man, who is really Dr. Walter Boone, a retired doctor with a forensic specialty, testifies for the defense. A hung jury saves Leonard Jackson until the real culprit is found and convicted. Some young readers may be moved by the book, the period touches (e.g., Star Trek and Wild Kingdom on the TV) are fun (although Mr. Spock is mistakenly given a doctor’s title), and Tops is well-drawn. But it’s borderline incredible that the kids could make a boogeyman out of Dr. Boone (see above), and as to the trial of Mickey’s father, in the Texas of 60 years ago, sadly, he would more likely have been railroaded than exonerated.

Earnest and bighearted but too pat overall.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61254-862-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Brown Books Kids

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

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GO AWAY, SHELLEY BOO!

Emily Louise is certain that the new girl moving in next door will be simply awful. Working herself into a frenzy (in long passages of text that take the conceit just about as far as it can go), she imagines a terror of a child named Shelley Boo who is a swing swiper, eats nothing but peanut butter, has “drillions and drillions” of baseball cards, and steals Emily’s best friend, Henry. Stone’s exuberant color drawings, filled with whimsical animals and reminiscent of folk art, are less effective here than in What Night Do Angels Wander? (1998). Children will still identify with Emily’s anxiety about a new neighbor and share her relief when she finally does meet the infamous “Shelley Boo,” who is really named Elizabeth. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-81677-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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MOONSHINE

Blackwood goes from Elizabethan England (Shakespeare Stealer, not reviewed, 1998) to a Depression-Era Ozarks setting for this poker-faced tale of a self-reliant but naive teenager. Although he and his mother are dirt poor and he doesn’t remember his father, Thad is an optimist; he has a girl, a loyal bluetick hound, and a good if risky source of income, selling corn liquor for Dayman, a sour, one-armed recluse with a hidden still. He begins to get a glimmer of other lives and possibilities when Harlan James comes to town, claiming to be a land scout for tobacco growers. Harlan is well-dressed, a free spender, and free with his time, too; he allows Thad to use his fancy tackle to land a huge catfish, teaches him how to use a rifle, and even loans him clothes for a date. Blackwood knits characters together with threads of “moonshine”—not liquor, but a steady diet of stories, jokes, yarns, and outright lies’so that the story becomes a study in layers and varieties of honesty. Thad’s feeling of betrayal is sharp but brief when he finds out that Harlan is a revenue agent, stalking Dayman’s still, which literally explodes in his face. Blackwood drops plenty of hints that both Harlan and Dayman are more than they seem, so alert readers are always ahead of Thad, which adds drama; the twin revelations that Dayman is Thad’s father and that Harlan’s friendliness wasn’t all moonshine close this backwoods bildungsroman on a high note. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7614-5056-4

Page Count: 158

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1999

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