Saturday, January 9, 2010

How Many Roads Must a Man Cross Before You Call Him a Man? Four!

How do we know we're grown up, that we've made it past the awkward and angst-ridden dilemmas of our childhood, and can move on to a peaceful existence as functional adults? Does it happen when we find apartments in the big city and furnish it with one-of-a-kind items from Pottery Barn and Ikea? Does it happen when our parents treat us like equals and feel comfortable blowing us off after a hard day? Is the change from a child to an adult so subtle that only in retrospect can we pinpoint our rites of passage? Growing up isn't easy, but Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt, winner of the 1967 Newbery Medal, comforts us by showing that we are not alone in our awkward transitions.

Up a Road Slowly chronicles the development of Julie Trelling from a capricious seven-year old to a refined seventeen year old woman, at the brink of her bright future. Julie's childhood is hardly typical; she is sent to be raised by Aunt Cordelia, a spinster school teacher, after her mother dies suddenly. Under Aunt Cordlia's tutelage, Julie learns more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. She learns to accept people who are different from her, value hard work and determination, and understand her own heart and mind. Julie has her share of mistakes and frustrations, but each experience helps her develop the person she is becoming. When Julie finally has the opportunity to return home to her father and new stepmother, as she starts high school, she makes the decision to stay with Aunt Cordelia which changes her life forever. While staying with Aunt Cordelia, she suffers the pangs of first love with Brett Kingsman and the "completeness" of true love with Danny Trevort. According to Aunt Cordelia, "a woman is never completely developed until she has loved a man," (98) and while my feminist sensibilities balk at this idea, Julie's relationship with Danny does help bring out the best parts of her. While Brett manipulated and scorned her, Danny helps her become a "kinder and gentler" person (153) with his love. Julie's story is hardly done at the end of the novel. As Aunt Cordelia says, "one never stops climbing . . . unless he wants to stop and vegetate. There's always something just ahead" (180). For Julie, the future holds college, marriage, a writing career, and many more wonderful things. Julie, like the rest of us, is a work in progress, and like her, our journey has just begun.

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