Saturday, August 24, 2013

Little Joe by Michael E. Glasscock III

Rating: ★ ★  ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 22, 2013

When Little Joe Stout survives the car accident that took his parents’ lives, he is sent to live with his maternal grandparents in the small town of Round Rock, Tennessee. Orphaned and missing his Texas home, Little Joe is reluctant to adapt. But his grandparents, especially his grandmother, are up to the challenge of raising him despite their own struggles. Soon, childhood friendships are forged in the oddball duo of Sugar and Bobby, and—with the help of a new canine companion—Little Joe begins to see that his new home offers the comfort and love he thought was lost forever. Set against the drama of World War II and the first sparks of the civil rights movement, Little Joe’s new home is a microcosm of America in the 1940s. A frightening incident with a Chinese motorist traveling on the wrong side of town, the migration of troops across the countryside, and a frank discussion of Jim Crow laws are just a few of the local events mirroring the radio broadcasts that bring the news of the day into his grandmother’s kitchen. Little Joe begins a four-part series from Michael E. Glasscock III that explores the intricate social cloth of Round Rock, Tennessee.

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Freedom From Want
by Norman Rockwell
Michael Glasscock's Little Joe reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting. Covering everything from prejudice and racism to the harsh realities of farm life, Glasscock creates a very authentic portrait of small town America in the shadow of World War II. Unfortunately, his touch and go style of storytelling makes the narrative equally one dimensional. 

I guess what I'm trying to say it what works on an easel doesn't translate as well in fiction. Glasscock does an excellent job illustrating Little Joe's situation, but he always seems to stop short of letting his readers under his protagonist's skin and experiencing the tumultuous spectrum of emotions running wild within him. 

The mechanical problems in this piece doesn't end with the lack of character development either, there are several elements that treated this way. For example, Glasscock spends a lot of time developing Little Joe's affection for Chicken Little, but doesn't allow it to go anywhere. There is a brief discussion about the injustice of the Jim Crow laws, but the narrative never returns to explore the material. We encounter the prejudice felt by Asian Americans as war waged in the Pacific and short of a single letter of thankful correspondence late in the novel, this component also falls flat. See what I mean about touch and go?

A great idea, but the execution wasn't as convincing as I needed it to be. Hoping the follow next installment of the Round Rock series, The Trial of Dr. Kate, is more satisfying. 

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“I know you miss them. I miss them, too. It’s terrible to lose your parents when you’re so young. My heart goes out to you, but you’ve got to deal with it. They’re gone, and there’s nothing either of us can do. And I know it’s difficult for you, living on a farm, but again, that’s just the way it is.”
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