Monday, October 17, 2011

Audiobook Review: One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, by Joanne Rocklin

Rocklin, Joanne. One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street. 2011. Listening Library. Audiobook $38.00. ISBN 9780307879745

Once upon a time, Southern California was covered in orange groves. Nowadays, you’re lucky if you spot one here or there. That’s how it is on Orange Street: just one tree left standing from what used to be hundreds. Over the span of a day and a half, the reader gets to know the residents of Orange Street, past and present, and learn what this wonderful tree means to all of them.

Normally, the kind of story where seemingly unrelated threads come together in surprising ways is my favorite. I love that that spine-tingling moment where it all clicks. Unfortunately, I found this middle grade read to be a little lacking in the plot department.

Rather, the emphasis here is on character development. Which isn't a bad thing! Character development is a good thing! BUT- but… there's a lot of time spent developing the various characters and their wants, hopes, and concerns, and I feel that their personalities and issues could have been more seamlessly integrated into the narrative, rather than forcing the plot into slow motion.

Too, I have some quibbles with the storytelling. The object that sets everything in motion a suspicious orange cone placed near the neighborhood’s beloved tree, but the cone seems to be forgotten for the bulk of the book. Moreover, the orange tree’s fate is wrapped up with the appearance of a mysterious stranger, but his motivations were never entirely clear to me even after his backstory was revealed.

That said, there's plenty to like about this book. Rocklin really captures the little rituals and worries and superstitions kids rely on. The gentle writing style and timeless setting are enjoyable, and the subtly diverse cast of characters is a plus.

The highlight of the book for me was Ms. Snoops, the oldest resident on Orange Street, written with great sensitivity as she recalls the most minute details about the past, but can't seem to remember what happened an hour earlier. Oh dear-- I just want to give her a reassuring pat on the hand.

Additionally, there are some genuinely stirring moments at the book's conclusion, and a comforting feeling of just-rightness with a satisfying epilogue. I love a good epilogue!

Orange Street has received several glowing reviews from journals and has been getting some Newbery buzz, so I’ll be curious to see if the committee recognizes it. I think this title may only appeal to the most patient young readers, and in fact, feels like the kind of book that will appeal more to adults than kids-- but since child appeal is not one of the criteria for the Newbery, who knows?

I listened to this book on CD, and I found myself ambivalent about Lisa Baney’s performance. I enjoyed her depiction of some of the adult characters-- Ms. Snoops and a cheerful set of grandparents in particular-- but her younger characters were unconvincing to me. So, the book itself and the audiobook experience were both a bit uneven for me. Still, I would recommend this title to an avid young reader looking for a realistic story, especially if they want something about friendship and community. I’m not sure it will appeal to everyone, but those who do connect with it will wholeheartedly enjoy it.

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