Set in the summer and fall of 1972, in the small town of Stony Gap, Virginia, Kathryn Erskine‘s latest, Seeing Red, is full to the brim with the little details of everyday life, woven together so expertly as to create a richly detailed portrait of a young man, his family, his town, and his world, that is an emotional powerhouse for readers, young and old alike. 12 year old Red Porter’s daddy, his hero, has recently died of a heart attack and Red’s entire world is reeling. Left with doubt, debt, and nothing to keep them in Stony Gap, Red’s mama is preparing to sell the house, the auto repair shop, and the convenience store, all of which have been in the Porter family for generations. Red knows deep in his bones that he can’t let their land, their legacy, and their good name (“Porter’s: We Fix It Right”) be sold off and he’s determined to figure out how to convince mama not to sell so they can stay where they belong.
While Red is searching for anything he can use to keep mama from selling, he finds an old scrap of paper in Old Man Porter’s roll-top desk that has what looks like a hand-drawn map, something in Latin, and a date from just after The Civil War written on it. Now, Red doesn’t care much for school or history, but he has a feeling that this piece of paper is an important clue to both a family and a town mystery that Red makes it his personal quest to solve. As Red begins investigating what that paper could mean, he discovers that there’s been injustice going on in Stony Gap since long before he was born and his family may have played a painful part in it. Through his friendships with a number of folks in town, as well as his interactions with the town’s bullies and bigots, Red learns a lot about what it really means to “fix it right.”
It’s surprising how many thought-provoking questions and universal themes Erskine packs into Seeing Red, particularly because you get so caught up in the well written story, entangled with the believable, complex characters, and completely lost in the authenticity of Stony Gap. As the mystery unfolds and Red is faced with one tough choice after another, Erskine builds the tension to the point of bursting, demonstrates a sense of empathy for her characters, and ultimately trusts them to realize the importance of taking responsibility for yourself and your choices. Red (and the reader) come to understand that it’s your every day actions that shape your future and your history: “we’re all going to do stupid things we regret. Any common person can pretend he didn’t do it. It takes a real man, a Porter, to stand up to what he did, admit it, and apologize, and fix it as best he can. That’s how you gain respect.” (197)
- Posted by Cori