9780545925853_mresHere’ the dirt on Dirt by Denise Gosliner Orenstein:

  1. Eleven-year-old Yonder attends Robert Frost Middle School in Vermont, where her classmates are “just dumb losers with mean mouths full of empty words” (5).
  1. After her mother dies, Yonder screams and yells for her mother to come back but realizes that words don’t work, so she stops speaking since “silence seems safer.”
  1. Yonder’s father masks his grief and fills the empty void with alcohol: “My father drank and drank and drank and didn’t really know how to be a regular father at all” (48). Despite his sobbing and his littering the floor with beer bottles, Yonder doesn’t know how to calm her father, how to help the hurt, or what to do.
  1. Yonder, a target for bullies because she’s different, endures taunts for her selective mutism, her alcoholic father, and her poverty. To help her survive the incessant mistreatment, Yonder takes solace in knowing that an octopus has three hearts—“if one [is] ever broken, there [are] always two more to fall back on” (7).
  1. Besides her own voice, many other things in Yonder’s life are unheard of: That she is teased unmercifully at school, that her father spends half his life with a glass of cider in his hand, and that her mother isn’t present to nurture, guide, and console her.
  1. During her self-sponsored silence, Yonder discovers that some people are exactly as they seem, like irritable Miss Enid, while others are not what they seem, like Terrible Trudy Trumpet, the giant Itty Bitty, silent Pa Prattle, and Dr. Jane Herriot.
  1. Dirt is definitely a devilish Shetland pony beast who likes to nip and loves to trick, but he is also a friend who helps Yonder heal because Dirt hears through Yonder’s unspeakable silence. Dirt’s heavy head on Yonder’s shoulder always makes her feel lighter, just as “the weight of a friend who needs you can lessen your load” (69).  And with each stroke of the steel brush as Yonder grooms Dirt, she brushes away her worriers and fears.  Because Dirt listens, even though Yonder never says a single word, he performs grief therapy for Yonder– supplying hope, communicating affection, and listening to her woes.
  1. Yonder’s doting devotion and efforts to rescue Dirt from becoming horsemeat represent acts of courage. After all, getting someone to pay attention to silence and then making them understand is tricky business.
  1. Although silence has, on one hand, protected Yonder “from falling apart, from keeping the past from storming loudly back to life” (202), her terrible pain crashes down with tremendous insight: Words matter if they add up to the truth.
  2. Readers who enjoyed Sarah Lean’s A Dog Called Homeless and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, will likely appreciate Dirt, which also features a female protagonist whose selective mutism follows personal tragedy.  Rich with irony and important lessons, Dirt is a worthwhile read!
  • Posted by Donna

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