Friday, June 8, 2007

Poetry Friday--Cynthia Rylant

Ludie’s Life by Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant’s novel in verse is about Ludie, who is a mother of six, and a grandmother, and whose life has never been her own. Ludie is an adult for the whole of this book, and Rylant tells her story in a lyrical third person narrative.

Ludie got married because she wanted to get away from her stepmother. Before she could barely blink, Ludie had six children to look after. Even after her children grew up, she ended up raising grandchildren as well, and she resented it. Her husband, a hard-working coal miner in West Virginia, barely made enough to keep them fed. She lived in poverty but still managed to send her children to college.

Her life was living practically. Animals were not pets, they were food. She had to live so that she could continue to eat and live.

“Ludie could not afford
to turn animals into people.
She’d known hunger.
She’d learned the hard way what it is
not to have a choice about food.
It is a privilege
a certain pass
given those of a certain class,
to dote on animals.
Ludie had counted out
too many grains of rice
to care whether
the dog had enough company
or the cat
liked its food.
Maybe next life
she’d be an animal lover.” p. 37-38

One of my favorite scenes is when she describes going to the ocean.

“They put everything they thought they’d need
in one of the cars,
then climbed in and went to Virginia Beach
for the day.
There is no use trying to describe
what they felt
when they got there.
Such feelings they never found words for.
No mountain child ever finds words for an ocean.” p. 53

This story could have been my grandmother’s story—she raising nine children. I know she and my Papa didn’t have two pennies to rub together. But she made it, sent some of those kids off to college, was surrounded by grandchildren in her old age, and grew lonely when she was the only one left alone in her small house that used to be busting at the seams with children.

Interestingly enough, when I finished this book, I instantly thought, this is a YA book—even an adult book. The protagonist is an old lady. This book is an adult reflection of her life. It’s not really appealing to kids, but it is so beautifully written. My library had it shelved with the juvenile fiction, not YA. Harcourt has it listed for ages 14 and up on their website. Much more fitting audience, I think. I hope teens will pick it up. I hope adults will find their way to the juvenile books to read this novel in verse about a strong woman.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at HipWriterMama today.

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