Monday, August 2, 2010

"Peace, Locomotion" by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Peace, Locomotion
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Putnam, 2009
Where and why: I got this from my library when I saw it on the shelf, because I loved its predecessor, Locomotion.

This book continues the story of Lonnie Collins Motion, or Locomotion, told in the letters he writes to his younger sister, Lili. He has been living with Miss Edna, his foster mother, for 2 years at the start of the book, and is starting to feel more and more like he is a part of the family; yet, this causes him to begin questioning the meaning of family, and whether his old one is more important than the new one. This is all happening while his foster mother's youngest biological son, Jenkins, is fighting in the Middle East. When Jenkins eventually returns, broken in body, mind and spirit, Lonnie is forced to confront the issues of war, trauma and acceptance.

I originally was going to rate this lower than Locomotion because of the lack of verse, which I still think causes this book to lose some of the sparkle Locomotion has. However, as I got further and further into this short volume, I couldn't bring myself to give this less than 4 stars. The prose is so beautiful, and Lonnie is one of the most gentle and understanding characters I've come across in YA literature. He is incredibly perceptive, and has wisdom beyond his years because of everything he's seen and been through. He understands Jenkins' post-traumatic stress, as he went through something like it after the death of his own parents.

It's clear how much Lonnie loves Lili in the language he uses when speaking to her through his writing. He protects her, sees their mother in her, watches the goodness she radiates and relates it back to her in a touchingly loving way.

Yet, despite all the beauty and sensibility of the language, Woodson manages to give Lonnie a voice that is believable as well as profound. He sounds exactly like a 12-year-old who is confronting the meaning of family, peace and moving on.

Lonnie continues to explore the meaning of family, and what constitutes one. He fears forgetting his parents and wishes for his old life with his biological family, yet he hates the idea of never being a part of the one made up of Miss Edna, his foster brother Rodney, and eventually Jenkins.

Woodson deftly and delicately discusses the consequences and ethics of war through Lonnie, with her perfect audience being those in late elementary and middle school. What is just? Is war ever okay? Lonnie struggles with this, knowing that praying for peace is all he can do. As Rodney tells him, "You pray for peace, all the rest of the stuff comes. If there was peace, nobody would be getting hurt or killed or jacked up in a war, right? ... Peace covers everything, Little Brother. Everything" (40-41). Lonnie prays for peace and advocates peace, to his little sister, and to us.

Though I did miss the poetry present in Locomotion, this companion novel delves into heavy issues with grace and language that young readers can understand. With a harsh background of loss and violent pasts, Peace, Locomotion is beautiful in its spareness and simplicity, making it a worthy addition to any library.

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