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Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy    by Gary D. Schmidt order for
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
by Gary D. Schmidt
Order:  USA  Can
Yearling, 2006 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Gary Schmidt's multi-award-winning historical novel is set in 1912 Maine. Thirteen-year old Turner Ernest Buckminster relocates from Boston to Phippsburg when his father, Reverend Buckminster, accepts an offer from the First Congregational Church. Turner is expected to behave 'in the way appropriate of a minister's son'. His unhappiness with the move grows as he is laughed at when he goes up to bat - the baseball team plays slow-pitch baseball, a different setup than he was taught.

After Turner fist-fights with the church Deacon's son and pitches stones at Mrs. Cobb's fence, Dad sentences him to read and play the organ for the elderly, persnickety Mrs. Cobb at her home. Across-the-street neighbor Mrs. Hurd is sassy and supportive of Turner, giving him pointers on using his fists, even if it is against her grandson. And Turner's Mom shows her colors by backing her son with well-chosen words to the Reverend. Investigating the shoreline, Turner meets Lizzie Bright Griffin digging for clams. Spunky, full-of-fun Lizzie lives across the water on Malaga Island, a town founded by former slaves. Lizzie teaches Turner the art of rowing a dory, eye-to-eye communication with whales, and tutors him in the Phippsburg way of playing ball, but especially shares friendship, laughter, and how to 'catch the seabreeze'. Lizzie introduces Turner to her pastor grandfather and other members of the Malaga Island community - happy even though they don't have much but the all-important inner happiness.

But the heavens open and hell too when the good citizens of Phippsburg discover that Turner has been in the company of a Negro girl. Deacon Hurd, Sheriff Elwell, Mr. Stonecrop, and Reverend Buckminster don their frock coats to inform Preacher Griffin his community must leave Malaga by the fall season. The committee plans to develop a tourist attraction for the 'economically-dying Phippsburg', and the eyesore of the Island's shanties and residents won't do. Townsfolk expect a good deal of Reverend Buckminster in the evacuation of Malaga. After all, Island residents are a 'financial burden', and not one has a property deed! Lizzie Bright listens to the frock coats, observing her grandfather's stance. Inside she prays for the Change to occur there and then, so that 'he took his Bible in hand and stood up in front of God and all Malaga Island to preach ... opening his eyes wide and glinting like mica ... Golly Moses, he looked as if he could stamp his foot on the ground and the rocks would split open with the angels at his command beneath him and fire and thunder come out'.

Turner, the minister's son is given a new commandment: 'Thou shalt not step one of thine feet upon Malaga Island, lest thou be smitten, and smitten mightily, saith the Reverend Buckminster'. But Turner figures that if he happened to climb the granite ledges to the muddy shore, and if Lizzie 'happened to have come over to dig clams' ... after all Dad had said nothing about talking with her, or throwing a ball about, or just sitting by the green-blue sea together. The Reverend home-schools his son, giving him Charles Darwin's Origin of Species to examine and analyze - 'From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.' Turner learns that Mrs. Cobb is not as stern as she first appeared, and doesn't mind Lizzie coming into her house to listen and sing while he plays the organ. Turner meets with good fortune, along with bad times during the few months ahead, as he and Lizzie face a 'terrible price to pay for going against the tide'.

Gary Schmidt's poignant and exquisitely moving writing is to be savored long after being read. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy has humor, sadness, troubled times, the harshness of racism, social-posturing, and greed with dire events. Yet the radiance of the commitment of two teens - who dare to tackle the rising tide no matter the consequences - shines through like the rays of the sun. Schmidt's phrasing enraptures readers while dispensing the feel of the change of seasons, 'the September sea breeze stole the gold from the maples, the silver from the aspens ... at times the sea breeze seemed to want to sleep with the leaves'. Schmidt's borrowed background of the Malaga community in the 1900's is real as are some names. The author writes of Malaga Island, 'For the most part, the people of Phippsburg had their way with it. Nothing remains of the Malaga Island settlement ... But whales still swim in sight of the New Meadows.'

2nd Review by Lyn Seippel:

Thirteen-year-old Turner Buckminster isn't thrilled to be leaving Boston and moving to Phippsburg, Maine. His dad has been hired to be the town's new pastor and Turner must be on his best behavior, wear starched white shirts, and be a credit to his family and church.

Turner's family is greeted with a town picnic, but Turner gets a less than warm welcome from the sons and daughters of the deacons. As time passes, he is unable to turn their attitude around. Lonely and unhappy, Turner meets Lizzie Bright of Malaga Island. Fearless and full of fun Lizzie is the first black person Turner has ever met. Despite the town's disapproval, Lizzie and Turner become friends.

The year is 1912. Malaga Island was settled by freed slaves. The impoverished community has been ignored until recently, but now the townspeople see a profit to be made from the island. Readers won't forget Turner and Lizzie or the beautiful coastal area Schmidt describes. This Newberry winner tells the story of a town's greed and racism and of the caring, honest boy who confronts them.

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