Dad sits on the edge of my bed,
his hand holding mine.
I tell him
about my dream,
like eyes of God,
like an open mouth,
the sky so black
all the sounds. (Crist-Evans, p. 22)
North of Everything is a short little book that encompasses a whole lot of emotion. Written by Craig Crist-Evans, this book is 67 pages of verse novel showing life as it is really handed to us. The narrator, unnamed, moves with his family from Florida to Vermont so his dad can farm again. We learn that his dad is sick of his nine-to-five and wants to be with the fresh air because he feels that it will help him. This was my first experience with verse in a long time. It’s quick and too the point. The writing is very fresh and free.
After moving, our narrator learns two things: first, that his mother is pregnant with a baby and second, that his dad is really sick with cancer. In it’s sparse words, the book shows the truth of dealing with illness in your family. It shows his father steadily decline and how it affects both the narrator and his mother. The narrator spends time at school sleeping and is frequently checked out. Crist-Evans uses the new baby to contrast the struggle of the mother and son to the new child’s experience of not knowing what a dad is. The new child, who the narrator calls Spanky, has no concept of father and was never old enough to get to know hers when he was well.
Eventually, the narrator finds out that being in the beautiful open country does not keep your family safe. As the father diminishes to a wisp of a man in his final days, the mother and son find a way to cope. This is very interesting because Crist-Evans subtly alludes to their lives falling apart. It’s implied, not stated, that the mother develops a drinking problem. The son remains relatively unaffected by this, seeming to understand that his mother needs this to help her cope. He makes a friend who has rabbits. These rabbits, like the baby, contrast birth and death.
The novel ends on a really sweet note, during the spring, as everyone’s lives come back together. My favorite poem in the book details the family out at ice cream together and a stranger makes the mother a balloon hat, telling her that sometimes you just need a hat. The last poem of the book is a bit quirky. The family is at dinner and the baby says her first words. There isn’t a real “closing” poem to the novel as there was an opening poem, but this final poem brings a sense of peace and closure that I do not think a poem written to end the novel would have. Life doesn’t end with a closing note–this book does a good way of showing that. It ends, just as the book ends, in a moment shared with others or alone. A moment that you may not think to be the last word, but is. It was brilliant.
Why I liked it:
This book doesn’t get a love–it gets a like. I liked the honesty of the poetry in conveying human emotion. I liked that the boy didn’t spend too much time on his mom’s story when he was more concerned on his own. I liked that it ended on a random poem instead of a poem meant to bring closure. I liked the honesty and grief and coping of this book.
Why my kids liked it:
It’s short enough that they felt successful. Especially for my students on the low end of the reading spectrum, this was a really quick read that wasn’t a challenge. They also liked the story line and how sad it was at times.
Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Honest emotions about a young man dealing with death, life, and all of the other challenges of life.
Happy Reading! It’s cold here!