Alida’s Song

Set in the early to mid 1950s, this book tells the story of a summer in the life of a fourteen-year-old boy whose parents were always fighting and often drunk. He nearly flunked the eighth grade like every grade before it and is in danger of being drawn into the gang life of the city where he lives. But he receives a letter from his grandmother Alida, who is working for the bachelor Nelson brothers on their farm in northern Minnesota and invites the boy to spend the summer there.

The first book by Paulsen which I read was Dog Song, which I found so revolting that I decided not to read any more of Paulsen’s books. But Hatchet was recommended by several, so I read it and it is not bad. Then when I saw Alida’s Song at a used curriculum sale, I picked it up. Aside from a few references to stealing, drinking alcohol, using tobacco, dancing (this would not be a problem for many people, but there are those of us who do have religious objections to social dancing), and swearing (the only actual instance of swearing is one use of “by god”—do authors really think that if they do not capitalize the word “god” that it really is not taking the Lord’s name in vain?), this is not all that bad a book and does have good message to it.

It is identified as “a companion to The Cookcamp,” an earlier book of Paulsen’s that I have not read, of which it is said, “This short, lyrical novel concerns a five-year-old boy who is sent to the north woods of Minnesota to live with his grandmother, a cook for a rough-and-tumble road-building crew, because his father is off fighting in World War II and his mother has taken a job in a factory.” Alida’s Song apparently picks up the story some ten years later. I tire of children’s books that present nuclear families as broken or dysfunctional, but those situations do exist and it is good that there are grandmother’s who can step in and do something to help. The jacket cover calls it “a memorable novel about one of the most important and loving relationships in Gary Paulsen’s life,” so we might assume that while it is fictionalized, it is somewhat autobiographical. The book was reissued in 2001.

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