This novel was expanded from a short story by Card, and it shows; the plot, at its core, is simply this: a Mormon family moves to central North Carolina, has some troubles and makes enemies, all the while boys are going missing in the neighborhood. They find out what has happened to the boys. That's it in a nutshell, and as my husband remarked, this novel is obviously taking the background of a short story and pushing it into the foreground. That does =not= mean it's boring or lagging; Card uses this opportunity to create a fully-fleshed family, enmeshed in various communities (the Mormon Church, a computer software company, a medium-sized southern town), so that the plot has overall personal meaning.
On a personal note of my own, having grown up in medium-sized southern towns with a father who worked for IBM when the IBM PC came out, I was brought back to my childhood, when my favorite fast food place in the Savannah Mall was Der Weinerschnitzel, when I was disappointed in my Commodore VIC-20 and its tape drive, when I had to battle through swarms of bugs just to get to my backyard swingset. Card nails the details perfectly, especially the kind of resentment one can get as a gifted child growing up in "advantaged" circumstances; I had no Mrs. Jones in my past, but I very well could have. I've seen other children treated as Stevie was, and there's little a child can do about a teacher who hates children. On another detail note, I'm sure the episodes with the bugs were intended to be creepy, and I'm sure Card thought the armies of bugs that greeted him in Greensboro were daunting, but I just had to laugh about it. My lord, I used to eat South Carolina =dirt= as a child, which is full of dead bugs. I'm supposed to be scared by a bunch of crickets pouring through a rotten baseboard?
Seriously though, there are so many moral triumphs in this book, in which parents under extreme pressure try their best to protect their family, in many cases succeeding and in many cases and in a few, not being able to do much about the external world, but achieving a moral victory nonetheless. It also gave me ideas in how to deal with certain people, so literature can actually be useful now and then! Card has always presented one of the most accurate pictures of how religion acts in people's lives, especially from the point of view of a person of faith. In particular, I enjoyed learning a little more about how the Mormon social structure actually works, which of the duties people actually follow up on, and which they let slide (Sunday services and classes seem well-attended, but things like home teaching were given short shrift). Being a Catholic, I know how comforting a Church with an international structure can be -- instant community whereever you go -- but some of the duties can be shortchanged depending on local attitudes.
I spent much of the book wondering how much autobiography was in this story, as the actual origin of this book was a bedtime story Card made up for his son, Charlie Ben, who is echoed in the birth of the Fletchers' son Zap. Card had grown up in the west, done mission work in Brazil, and moved to Greensboro, NC which looks (to me, a Raleighite) alot like the fictional Steuben, NC. Card has been one of my favorite authors for so long, I was somewhat distracted by so much I could tell came directly from his own life. I can tell what a personal book this was, and anyone reading it for the human story will be well-rewarded.
Back to Reviews pageMary Pat Campbell, last updated Aug 2001