My Newbery quest and my 4th book rule (the one where every fourth book I read has to be a book I actually own) came together this week, and last night I finished Gary Paulsen’s Dogsong. (Which means, I think, that I’m finished with Gary Paulsen–at least as far as Newberys are concerned.) And…
Hmmm. My thoughts on this one are a bit random, so I’ll start with the obvious; from the first page of the first chapter, it was immediately clear that this was another Newbery to really, really stretch the definition of “Children’s” literature. I didn’t find it offensive, mind you, but the subject matter of the quotes that head the first two chapters is not exactly material for my 7-year-old. The rest of the book, I have to say, follows suit. Again, there’s nothing offensive or explicit, but the main character saves the life of a pregnant teenage girl, and his experiences helping her are not exactly fluffy. I’d say 12 and up, maybe, but you probably want to be aware of the basic plot even then. Depending on the 12-year-old.
Next thought…while it was well done and yes, affecting, the idea of Russell’s real-life experiences and the ones he dreams about melding at the end was executed a little strangely for me. If life had just mirrored the dream I’d be all for it, but at one point he’s not sure what he actually does and what he dreams, and that went a little far for me. Gary Paulsen sells it well–the prose certainly has a dream-like quality–but still.
And the last thought? The basic plot of the book is this: Russell is troubled by the modern world and yearns towards the old ways, those of his grandparents’ time. His father can see this, and suggests he seek help from the old man in the village (there seems to be only one that’s old enough to talk about what Russell wants to know). Russell moves in with him, learns from him, and then takes the old man’s dogs and sled out (with his blessing) on a ‘run’ north to ‘become a man.’ It’s a simple journey–nothing about the old OR new way of Eskimo life portrayed seems attractive to me, what with the harsh environment and comparative lack of contact with the outside world, not to mention the diet of meat, meat, meat–but when Russell sleeps, he becomes a man from the time of woolly mammoths and lives his journeyings as well. Eventually, the worlds meld together, and Russell is given the chance to save a life in his actual time.
Okay, NOW for my last thought, which is that the book didn’t go either of the ways I assumed it was going. I figured that Russell was either going to embrace the old ways permanently and (perhaps) alter his lifestyle accordingly, or that he was going to return from his journey more comfortable with all aspects of his life. Instead, the book simply focused on how Russell became one with his dogs and the journey (possibly I should have paid more attention to the TITLE OF THE BOOK.) I didn’t really feel like there was resolution to his restlessness, although I suppose if you think about it, as the book ends he is turning toward at least one aspect of modern life without rejecting any of the old that he’s been living.
And there you have it, folks. Gary Paulsen is a bit of a puzzle for me, because the first book I read by him doesn’t seem to be his typical thing at all; his Newberys, on the other hand, share a common theme or three. I LOVED my first exposure to him, though, which is why I opted to link Nightjohn to this post. I can recommend that one to all and sundry–buy it, read it, it’s worth it–whereas Dogsong is not enough my thing for me to rave about it to others. I certainly respect it, and his outdoors and survival books are worth it if that’s more your style; they just aren’t so much mine. They are, however, good enough that all three Newberys were worth my time. I’m glad I’ve read them.
I’m just not sure I’m going to seek out more of his work in the immediate future.