“Adventure is out there.” –Up
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step on the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” –The Lord of the Rings
This week, some of us observed National Read a Road Map Day! So I got to thinking about maps and about some of my favorite books that feature road trips.
First, in Whirligig by Paul Fleishman, Brent must pay restitution after an accident that kills a young girl. This takes him on a cross-country journey of redemption.
"I've thought about you, for hours and hours. What can you possibly do for me? Paint the house? Mow the lawn all summer?" Her voice had acquired a stronger tremble. She let the questions hang in the air, then looked to Brent's left, out the window. "My father is a very fine carpenter. Lea was his first grandchild. When she was little, he made her lots of wooden toys. Her favorite was a whirligig, of a girl with arms that spin in the wind. He painted the face to look like her. We've had it on a pole in our yard forever. Hundreds of people over the years have noticed it, and stopped, and smiled. Just like people smiled at Lea."
"This is my only request. That you make four whirligigs, of a girl that looks like Lea. Put her name on them. Then set them up in Washington, California, Florida, and Maine—the corners of the United States. Let people all over the country receive joy from her even though she's gone. You make the smiles that she would have made. It's the only thing you can do for me." She exhaled. "That's what I ask."
In the quiet storm cellar of his mind, he pondered the proposal. Strange as it was, it would get him away from Chicago, his parents, and his recent past. It would also give him a chance to do penance. He'd never traveled on his own before. The idea held sudden appeal. He smiled inside. He cleared his throat. Then he spoke the words, "I'll do it” (40-42).
So begins Brent’s cross-country journey. As he builds the whirligigs, they end up giving hope to those strangers who receive them in the distant corners of the country. The whirligigs not only bring joy to others but also the possibility of redemption for Brent.
In Paper Towns by John Green, readers will find the usual relatable and quirky characters that we care about and wish we knew. When Quentin gets a mysterious challenge from his popular neighbor, Margo, to help inflict revenge, he goes along with the extravagant and clever plan. But then Margo disappears, leaving clues for Quentin that take him on a road trip across a map of “paper towns” to find his missing friend.
“She loved mysteries so much that she became one” (15).
“Here's what's not beautiful about it: from here, you can't see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You can see how fake it all is. It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It's a paper town. I mean, look at it, Q: look at all those culs-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I've lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.”
Finally, The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis is the delightful story of Kenny Watson, the ten-year-old voice of the story, who is headed with his family from Flint, Michigan to visit Grandma in Birmingham, Alabama. I love a good road trip and am drawn in to this aspect of the story: Dad prepares the car– the amazing Ultra-Glide–with all the extras Kenny could dream of; Momma makes lists and charts and budgets…and routes with stops.
First Momma started writing in a notebook and adding things up and subtracting things, then Dad and Joey and Rufus and me started driving all over Flint buying things for the Brown Bomber.
“Well, Kenneth, since you seem to be the only one with any curiosity, I guess you’ll be the one who gets to unveil the Bomber’s latest addition. …Ladies and gentlemen, the newest addition to the Brown Bomber! ... Our very own drive-around record player!” (100-109).
As the story continues, a musical playlist is planned by Kenny, his siblings, and his parents; snacks are prepared, and the lure of escaping the cold of Flint are all a part of the anticipation. Kenny knows that a visit to Grandma is the chance for their parents to get help in setting the kids right! They begin their epic journey to the South in the summer of 1963—to Birmingham, Alabama, where one of the darkest moments of American history took place. The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963 took the lives of four young girls: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley.
I guess my ears couldn’t take it so they just stopped listening. I could see people everywhere making their mouths go like they were screaming and pointing and yelling but I didn’t hear anything. I saw Momma and Dad and Bryan holding on to each other, all three of them looking like they were crazy and trying to keep each other away from the pile of rocks that used to be the front of the church. Momma was so upset that she even forgot to cover the space in her front teeth. I couldn’t hear her but I’d bet a million dollars she was shouting, “Why?” over and over like a real nut. It looked like Dad’s mouth was yelling, “Joetta!”
I was kind of surprised no adult stopped me from walking right up to the church. I got right next to where the door used to be when the guy came out with a little girl in his arms. He had on the same thing Dad did, a T-shirt and pajama pants, but it looked like he’d been painting with red, red paint. The little girl had on a blue dress and little blue frilly socks and shiny, shiny shoes.
I looked into the church and saw smoke and dust flying around like a tornado was in there. One light from the ceiling was still hanging by a wire, flickering and swinging back and forth, and every once in a while I could see stuff inside (184-5).
I invite you to take a journey, a road trip, either in a book or on the open road! Enjoy!
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” —Anita Desai