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Bud, Not Buddy    by Christopher Paul Curtis order for
Bud, Not Buddy
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2004 (1999)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

At age six (in 1936), 'Bud, Not Buddy' Caldwell is placed in a Flint, Michigan orphanage after his Momma dies. At age ten, Bud is placed in his third foster home, that of the Amos family, whose son resents any other child. After a fight ensues, the foster family believes their biological child's story about what happened. Bud is locked in a shed for the night - facing spiders, bats, and 'glowing yellow eyes' in the darkness.

Come morning, Bud leaves Flint. He takes pride in having his own suitcase filled with important, secret things - flyers, a blanket, a photo of Momma, and a collection of rocks, each marked with a date and locale. Momma never did tell Bud about his father, but he thinks she left clues, i.e. the flyers she collected of a big-band leader named Herman E. Calloway, and his band members, 'The Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!', 'Masters of the New Jazz'. Bud has a 'good feeling that this guy must be my father!'

Bud provides his own guidelines to live by, in a log of 'Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself'. #3 says that 'If You Got to Tell A Lie, Make Sure It's Simple and Easy to Remember'; and #83 warns that 'If a Adult Tells You Not to Worry, and You Weren't Worried Before, You Better Hurry Up and Start Cause You're Already Running Late'. Bud has his own philosophical wisdom: 'It's funny how ideas are, in a lot of ways they're just like seeds. Both of them start real, real small and then ... woop, zoop, sloop ... before you can say Jack Robinson, they've gone and grown a lot bigger than you ever thought they could.'

Bud is welcomed among hundreds of people living just outside of Flint in Hooverville (referred to as 'cardboard jungles'). President Hoover 'worked so hard at making sure every city had one'; of course, authorities destroy them when they have a mind to, as the jungles are looked down upon by the better-off residents of the city. With the aid of books from the Flint librarian, Bud calculates that it will take twenty-four hours to walk to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and sets off in that direction.

Life 'on the lam' is a lot of fun, but admittedly also tough. But nothing can stop Bud - neither hunger, fear, vampires, nor detours along the way. When Bud has walked as far as the town of Owosso, Michigan, a car pulls over. Mr. Lefty Lewis is delivering a container of blood to the Hurley Hospital back in Flint. But never fear, Lewis will be traveling back to Grand Rapids the next day, and Lefty knows Calloway. On top of that, Lewis is kind enough to send a Western Union message to inform Calloway 'that Bud is okay ... and will be returning to Grand Rapids'. Oops! Bud didn't explain to the kind Mr. Lewis that Calloway will have no idea who he is. Yup, Bud told a few lies!

Christopher Paul Curtis begins his stories softly, gently, with humorous punch lines, in words unique to the people and the era, matched with lovable characters. As his tales progress, Curtis slowly adds a bit more here, and a bit more there, until the reader is totally absorbed in their intensity and meaning. As Bud, Not Buddy says, 'It's strange the way things turn out ... I'd been carrying Momma around for all this time ... All I have to do is remember her hand on my forehead when she'd ask me something ... and think of all the books she'd read to me at night, and remember that no matter how long it took she'd read until I went to sleep.'

Curtis's Afterword describes the Great Depression (between 1929 and 1941) as a period when a 'great majority of people suffered horribly'. To some, survival was questionable - with hungry youngsters fending for themselves, riding the rails, doing odd jobs, begging, and whatever else was necessary to get food. The author regrets not paying attention to his family's discussion of days back then. To readers, Curtis suggests 'Be smarter than I was ... talk to relatives ... and keep their stories alive'.

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