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Pieces of Georgia    by Jen Bryant order for
Pieces of Georgia
by Jen Bryant
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Pieces of Georgia, Jen Bryant narrates a story in free verse, from the point of view of Georgia McCoy, who turns thirteen as she begins telling us about herself. Georgia is an artist and each chapter begins with one of her sketches. She's on the school's At Risk list, not for substance abuse like the others, but for 'financial / single parent - father / possible medical?' (she saw the list on the school secretary's desk).

The guidance counselor gives Georgia a red leather notebook to jot down her thoughts and feelings, 'to write down what you might tell, or what you might ask, / your mother / if she were here.' Georgia's mother Tamara died six years earlier, and she and her taciturn dad live in a trailer on a horse farm, where Georgia earns money cleaning and walking the animals. Her dad works long hours in construction and Georgia lives a very lonely life, aside from the company of her mother's dog Blake and a horse named Ella.

In school they study the art of Georgia O'Keeffe, whom the story's Georgia calls, 'the artist who painted flowers and bones / so that you see them fresh, / like they are secret worlds you can lose yourself inside / if the real one gets too bad.' On her birthday, Georgia receives a mysterious gift, a membership to the Brandywine River Museum, which showcases the art of three generations of Wyeths (Georgia shares her insightful reactions to each artist's work). Who could have sent her the museum membership?

Despite her own problems (which give her stomachaches), Georgia worries about her overachieving best friend Tiffany - her opposite in most ways - a talented, popular student and athlete who often looks as tired as Georgia's father does. Tiffany has a secret, and not a good one; what should a friend do?

Gradually, Georgia's sad life changes. Her art teacher helps her apply for a grant, and, her dad's deep freeze of grief slowly begins to thaw. Pieces of Georgia is masterfully written, both heartbreaking and heartwarming, and shows how a caring community, friendship, and pursuing one's muse, can illuminate the darkest situations.

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