Saturday, December 05, 2020

Kimberly Willis Holt Books

Holt, Kimberly Willis. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town
Published October 15th 1999 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Library copy

Toby lives in Antler, Texas with his father, who is a mail carrier and also has a bait shop, and his mother, who is a budding singer who is away for a talent contest. Very little is going on in the town in 1971, although Toby is a bit worried about his best friend Cal's brother who is fighting in Vietnam and vaguely interested in the attractive Scarlett, who is dating another boy. When a trailer pulls into town next to the Dairy Maid and advertises that people can come in and see The Fattest Boy in the World, this provides the town with much needed entertainment. Toby feels somewhat sorry for Zachary, who is a little older than he and Cal are, so when Zachary's "agent" leaves him in search of another act, Toby helps the sheriff check on the boy and befriends him. When Toby's mother decides to stay away from home, and other unpleasant things occur, how will Toby deal with them?
Strengths: This has everything you would expect from a National Book Award title; lyrical writing, intriguing character development, exquisite setting details, and important issues. Readers who also enjoyed My Louisiana Sky or character driven historical dramas will enjoy this one. 
Weaknesses: Not a lot happens. This is written in a style very common in the last century, before young readers had cell phones in their pockets and overstimulated brains that demand explosions immediately and often. 
What I really think: This book has not been checked out at my library in seven years. Many of the reviews on Goodreads are from teachers who love to teach the book... and from students who were assigned the book and didn't care for it. I've kept the book, which was popular enough twenty years ago, but probably would have weeded if it weren't for a sequel involving Toby's daughter set during the aftermath of 9/11.

Holt, Kimberly Willis. The Ambassador of Nowhere, Texas.
January 12th 2021 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rylee Wilson, whose father is Toby from the book When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, lives in Antler, Texas, where things have not gotten much more exciting in the thirty years since Toby was a tween. Both of Rylee's parents are teachers, and in the summer they run the snow cone stand. Rylee's best friend, Twig, is distancing herself from Rylee due to her own problems. Joe, who has moved from New York City with his mother after the events of 9/11, is living in Miss Myrtie Mae's house, which they have inherited. Rylee ends up spending a lot of time with Joe. After Toby gets several photographs from the estate of Miss Myrtie and Rylee hears him talk about the summer that Zachary Beaver came to town, the two decide that it would be a good idea to look up Zachary and reconnect him with Toby. The two do a lot of 2001 style research, which will be quite interesting to younger readers, and manage to hunt him down. The town is also preparing to build a new library,.and Joe and his mother have to decide if they will remain in Antler. 
Strengths: This made a lot of sense with the historical timeline, and I liked that while the first book dealt with the ramifications of the Vietnam war, this dealt with the aftermath of 9/11. Holt's writing is always interesting, and there were a fair amount of details about what it was like to live in New York City during the destruction of the Twin Towers. The friend drama between Rylee and Twig will definitely help sell the book, and it was fun to see what 30 years did to characters like Ferris, Rylee's mother (the younger, "bratty" sister of Scarlett!), and Zachary Beaver.
Weaknesses: It would have been nice to see more information about what life in Antler was like in the days following 9/11, and to know more about what Zachary Beaver did with his life. 
What I really think: This was a bit slow, and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town has not left the shelf in seven years.  It's not necessary to read this first book to understand the second, but it adds a bit of interest if readers know the history of Toby, Zachary Beaver, and the summer of 1971.

No comments:

Post a Comment