Review: The Journey of Little Charlie

journey-little-charlieBook: The Journey of Little Charlie
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Genre: MG Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Little Charlie Bobo comes from a poor, sharecropping family in South Carolina. When tragedy strikes, Little Charlie finds himself heading north with Cap’n Buck, on a journey to bring back three fugitive slaves in Dee-troit, Mitch-again.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Little Charlie is quite likeable, albeit he’s rather naive. He certainly takes a while to put two and two together. But, ultimately he does. I also like how “Little Charlie” isn’t really all that little. He’s 12 years old and 6’4.

2) I loved how Curtis handled Little Charlie’s diction. It definitely added flavour to these characters. I’m not always a fan of writing out dialect, because I often find it hard to read. But I had no trouble with this book.

3) Three scenes really stood out for me. The first was the one where Little Charlie returns with bad news for his ma. Wow! I thought this scene was superb in how it handled the raw emotions of the mother, and including Little Charlie’s reactions to her.

4) The second scene involves the slave-catcher. Cap’n Buck is the villain of the piece. (And yes, along with Little Charlie, we get to hang out with the villain for most of the book!) But there’s a scene where the Cap’n is trying to wash himself in the river. All of a sudden, we don’t just have a character who is pure evil. We see that he’s vulnerable, and we (like Little Charlie) feel momentary pity for him. Now, don’t think this makes him any less of a villain. It doesn’t. The Cap’n continues to be despicable throughout the story. But I like how Curtis makes him a little human. It makes him more of a well-rounded villain. (Note: Even better, this is the scene where Cap’n Buck drops the hint of the fate of Little Charlie’s mother… something Little Charlie only figures out much later. Something that just seals the deal on how despicable Cap’n Buck truly is.)

5) Third scene to stand out… Inside the barber shop in Detroit. It somehow reminded me of a Charlie Chaplin scene. (Charlie Chaplin from The Great Dictator.)

6) I liked when Syl and Little Charlie both realize that they are the same the same height and the same weight. (And the reader realizes, that they’re both a little gullible.) It’s an endearing moment. And slightly weird, since it comes at a time in the book when you want to shout at Syl to get out of there.

7) I love the Author’s Notes at the back of the book, explaining the historical nugget that inspired this book. A real young man by the name of Sylvanus Demarest…

8) Being from Canada, I love the Canadian connection! And I love the differences shown between the reactions of the authorities in Detroit (U.S.) versus the townspeople in Chatham (Canada). (BTW, if you ever get the chance to visit the museum in Buxton, Ontario, do it! Below are some pics I took last April.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Okay, so this isn’t a huge criticism. (More like a warning. And “warning” is not really the right word either.) It took me a few chapters to realize that Little Charlie Bobo is a poor, white kid from a share-cropping family. I guess I assumed he was a black slave. The book cover is slightly unclear. So, I was a little confused for a few chapters because the historical stuff didn’t seem to mesh with Little Charlie’s situation. Like the date of the novel being set in 1858 in South Carolina, well before the Civil War. (Note: I don’t really like to read reviews/blurbs about books for fear of spoilers. Especially, if I like the author’s writing style. As for Christopher Paul Curtis, I love his books, so I went into this book blind.) I’m not sure HOW Curtis could have fixed this.

2) The dog and the horse have very similar names: Stanky (dog) and Spangler (horse). And speaking of the dog, I was waiting for her to come back into the story. I don’t know quite how. Maybe à la Incredible Journey?? So, I’m not sure why Curtis makes such a fuss about the dog when he has the dog drop out of the plot quite early on in the book. (Unless… did I miss something??)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Another good book from Christopher Paul Curtis. Going in, I was thinking this was going to be another Underground Railroad book. And it is, in a way… just from the slave-catcher’s perspective. Which is quite intriguing. I think it really only works because of the character of Little Charlie Bobo. (I’d recommend it for ages 10 and up. Maybe age 9?)

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