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The Sledding Hill    by Chris Crutcher order for
Sledding Hill
by Chris Crutcher
Order:  USA  Can
Greenwillow, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

'When you first die, you don't know you're dead. You know something is way different, but you've been playing the game with such intensity, it's hard to realize you've just stepped out of it.' These are the thoughts of recently deceased Billy Bartholomew, narrator of The Sledding Hill. Billy died when a load of Sheetrock fell on him. He looked down on his body as he watched best-friend Eddie Proffit attempt to move him from under the Sheetrock. Eddie's dad died recently, too, while fixing a tire that exploded at his service station.

Eddie is very smart, although most people don't think so. His mind travels at the 'speed of imagination', but he has a short attention span and doesn't finish everything he starts. Billy continues to watch over Eddie, who has chosen to stop talking - the fourteen-year old has gone into the 'dark room'. It takes time and some frights before Eddie latches on to the fact that Billy is still with him. 'If you're dead, what are you doing here?' asks Eddie. The response? 'I'm going sledding, dummy ... if you'll let me go down with you.'

Reverend Sanford Tarter, conservative minister and teacher, suggests that Eddie be baptized to help his grieving and mute condition. Eddie misses his father and best friend, is tired of being scared, and gives in. He attends church classes, but still doesn't talk. Tarter teaches that in the story of Cain and Abel, a mark is left on Cain. When asked what kind of mark, the Reverend replies, 'It's dark skinů, African Americans wear the mark of Cain.' The minister has crossed a line, and it is not to Eddie's liking.

The Reverend also advocates with the church council and the school board, to censor a book chosen by the librarian and a teacher, Ruth Lloyd. She has assigned a book entitled 'Warren Peece' (by Chris Crutcher), which includes bad language, and discusses gay marriages. Needing someone to talk to, Eddie visits Billy's dad. He voices his concerns to Mr. Bartholomew, and they make a pact: 'When you come across with something that seems to need a dad, run it by me. when I come up with something that needs a son, I'll do the same.'

Chris Crutcher ingeniously blends himself into the story, as the author of the book in question. Towards the end of the story, Crutcher makes an appearance at the church meeting at Eddie's request. He reaches out to readers on issues of bigotry, prejudice, and censorship. The Sledding Hill is the tale of two friends bonded even after death, an excellent, mind-provoking read that stays with the reader long after the ending.

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