Saturday, November 4, 2017

Novermber's Book of the Month--Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

November’s Book of the Month is the National Book Award-nominated middle-grade novel CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND, by Rita Williams-Garcia. She's also the Newbery Honor, Scott O’Dell and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of One Crazy Summer and the sequels P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama.

All Clayton Byrd wants is a twelve bar solo when he plays blues harp with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the Bluesmen in Washington Square Park. When Cool Papa dies, Clayton loses so much--his best friend, someone he could talk to, tell anything, ask anything—someone who made him feel like a person instead of a little kid. Clayton’s mother has never approved of her father or his blues playing, and when Cool Papa dies, she gets rid of all his things, including guitars and mementos that were meant for Clayton. Not only is Clayton furious, he feels completely lost. With no one to turn to, he grabs his now-confiscated harmonica, cuts school, and heads for Washington Square Park, hoping to hook up with the Bluesmen and join them when they hit the road. His adventures on the subway help him figure out a few things about himself, his family, and what it means to be “cool.” A little jail time and a sympathetic ear from his dad also help to turn things around!

Most central to this story is the relationship between Clayton and Cool Papa Byrd, the grandfather he idolizes, but the scope also widens to address a complex web of dynamics among other members of the family, including his mother, Ms. Byrd, and his father, Mr. Miller. Given the low page count, this examination is remarkably nuanced.

Williams-Garcia lets music define the deep bond that Clayton enjoys with his grandfather, and the way this shared love informs his entire world view. She infuses her prose with plenty of “rhythm and slow-burning funk” in this novel of loss, forgiveness, and the “deep-down cry” of the blues.


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