Richie's Picks: PEELED
- Richie's Picks: PEELED by Joan Bauer, Putnam, May 2008, 248p. ISBN: 978-0-399-23475-0"Baker Polton put his feet on the table, leaned back in his chair, and read, '"The long, lonely high school corridors seemed to be filled with the whispers of the graduating seniors who had left their marks on us all."'"Elizabeth smiled nervously."He looked up. 'Did the seniors draw on you with laundry markers?'"'Why no...'"He slashed through her copy, wrote in red, We won't forget the graduating seniors. 'Keep it simple, kid. This is journalism, not creative writing.'"Back when I was traversing my own high school corridors on Long Island in the early 1970s, I distributed an underground newspaper called Dog Breath (apparently named after the melodic Zappa song) to fellow students at Commack North. I knew that those stacks of newspapers were coming from someone in the Huntington area.(Don't you just love the Internet for being able to track down all sorts of weird stuff?)Since I was preparing to write about a great new middle school novel involving truth, justice, and a school newspaper named The Core, I was fondly recalling that old underground newspaper and started looking around online to see what I could learn about it (35+ years later). It turns out to have apparently been published by the older brother of a brainy Long Island kid who grew up to invent the Palm Pilot!"'We've got a bozo who likes rubbing fear and lies in people's faces. He's the only media source in town except us. Who are we writing for?'"Elizabeth raised her hand emotionally. 'The American people!'"Baker clasped his brow. 'Let's narrow that.'Darrell stood. 'We're writing for the community.'"'And they deserve the facts,' Baker warned. 'Don't ever forget it.'"There are seriously weird doings in Banesville, a picturesque community in upstate New York that has built up around a core of farms and long-established apple orchards . There have long been rumors that the creepy old Ludlow place is haunted. In fact, a young girl died in an accident on the street right out front five years ago. Now, one man has been caught trying to break in to the old house while another one has been found on the property -- dead!And the town's paper run by Pen Piedmont seems to be going out of its way, through a series of articles about the incidents, to heighten the fears gripping community members:"The Bee had in-depth coverage of the Ludlow place, including interviews with unidentified sources too afraid to come forward.'"It's a funny thing how fear grows. It moves like a virus, infecting person after person."There wasn't any medicine to stop the epidemic, either."Children were having nightmares about the killer ghost; some were afraid to leave their houses and come to school."One kindergarten teacher stopped taking her students out to recess because several of them said they saw a bad ghost behind a tree on the playground."I remembered my long year fighting fear in eighth grade after Dad died."'Everybody's afraid of something,' Gwen, my therapist, told me back then. 'And fear isn't always a bad thing, Hildy. It can alert us to real danger.' The operative word, Gwen said, was real, not imagined."Imagined fears are hard to nail down. For a while I was afraid every time my mom would go out that she'd get in a car accident and never come back. I was afraid that I'd never be happy again, I'd always be crying. I was scared that I had a weak heart like my dad and I'd die at thirty-eight just like he did."Hildy Biddle, who has grown up on one of those old apple orchards in Banesville, is the hard-working high school reporter who is at the center of the action. She is trying to fill the shoes of her dead father -- a great journalist and beloved community member -- while also attending school and doing her share of chores at home. In the process of trying to unravel (peel) the mysteries of the old Ludlow place, the dead body, and The Bee's role in what is going on, Hildy will come to count on the assistance of the new kid in town (Zack) The Core's curmudgeonly new advisor (Baker Polton), and a town resident (Minska) who "grew up in Communist Poland and saw fighting in the streets when she was a girl":"'My mother,' Minska said, 'always told me something when I was going to give up. She said, "Sometimes just getting up in the morning and standing at the gate can bring the gate down."'"In an era when community-based agriculture is rapidly coming to be recognized as a plus in terms of helping to mitigate the problems of global warming (It cuts down on trucking cardboard-like produce back and forth for thousands of miles.), Hildy Biddle's journey into the challenging world of high school journalism is an important as well as a lively and very fun tale about getting to the truth, saving farmlands, and embracing the gift of community.
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