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Richie's Picks:CROSSING STONES by Helen  Frost, FSG/Frances Foster Books, 
October 2009, 184p., ISBN:  978-0-374-31653-2
"I am on a lonely road and I am traveling
Looking for the key to set me free"
-- Joni Mitchell, "All I Want"
From what I've gotten to know of Muriel Jorgensen, I somehow  get the 
feeling that she would really be into Joni Mitchell.  
Muriel's a contemplative young woman who clearly has taken her  studies 
seriously.  She has been connecting dots, experiencing  some a-ha moments, and 
paying attention to her radical Aunt Vera,  who is a working woman over in 
Muriel is perceiving some serious inconsistencies between  the good line 
that the President who has taken us into war talks, in regard  to the 
undemocratic behavior of those countries that we consider  enemies, and what is 
actually going on here at home, in so-called  democratic America.  
Is it really unpatriotic to speak out in dissent  during wartime, to accuse 
the President of being no better than our  enemies?  Is it a slap in the 
face to Americans in uniform?
CROSSING STONES is the story of four teenagers and two  interconnected 
families -- the Jorgensens and the Normans -- living on  adjoining farms that 
are separated by a creek and joined by crossing  stones.  But the borders of 
Muriel's idyllic Midwest farm life are  breached when the news that young men 
are getting sent to war hits home for both  families.  Before you know it, 
Muriel's underage brother, Ollie, and next  door neighbor Frank Norman have 
both gone overseas.  Meanwhile,  there are protests and arrests in the 
nation's capital and, to top it all  off, there are signs of an impending flu 
But there is no Joni Mitchell for Muriel,  because CROSSING STONES is set 
ninety years ago during the Great War  when "W" stood for Wilson, and the 
protests outside the  White House gates, in which Muriel's Aunt Vera is 
participating and for  which she is getting arrested, focus on women demanding the 
right  of self-determination -- the right to vote.  
(Thank goodness things are so much better now in 2009, as  we wait to see 
whether there will actually be a second woman seated on the  U.S. Supreme 
Court before the only one there now is forced to retire for  health reasons.)
CROSSING STONES is a great piece of historical fiction  and a great coming 
of age story with some big surprises, some hints of  budding romance, some 
tragedy, a hunger strike, and The Flu.  
But this is Helen Frost writing, so that is all just the  beginning of the 
One of my oldest, dearest friends in the world is a  craftsperson who knits 
sweaters that are works of art and, now and again,  works in various other 
artistic media.  I have witnessed the time and focus  and planning and more 
time that goes into the execution of her finished  projects.  It is a 
process of which I am in awe. 
It is that process that I think of when I look  at how Helen Frost crafts 
one of her verse novels to be both a  great story and a perfectly-worded 
poetic work of art.  
CROSSING STONES is a verse novel featuring three  narrators: Muriel, her 
brother Ollie, and her best friend, Frank's sister  Emma.  As explained in her 
author's  note:
"I've created a formal structure to give the sense of stepping  from stone 
to stone across a flowing creek...The relatively free style of  Muriel's 
poems represents the creek flowing over the stones as it pushes against  its 
banks.  Ollie's and Emma's poems represent the stones...They are  'cupped-hand 
sonnets,' fourteen line poems in which the first line rhymes with  the last 
line, the second line rhymes with the second-to-last, and so on...In  
Ollie's poems the rhymes are the beginning words of each line, and in Emma's  
poems they are the end words...To give the sense of stepping from one stone to  
the next, I have used the middle rhyme of one sonnet as the outside rhyme 
of the  next..."
I love when a thoughtful and well-educated young person  becomes a river of 
change.  Muriel's search for what life may  offer beyond the cycle of 
seasons and farm chores illuminates a  long-ago step in the historical quest that 
continues for American  women today in the Twenty-first  century.  
Throughout her travels, Muriel is so  authentic and likeable in how she sometimes 
second-guesses herself,  how she comfortably embraces her nurturing instincts 
while quietly and  firmly rejecting her mother's antiquated thinking about 
women's roles,  and how, in the face of chauvinistic drivel, she is a girl 
who is not  afraid to take a punch.         

Richie  Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ ( 
Moderator, _ 
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