Elijah of Buxton
Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis
This middle-grade novel was a pretty heavy contender for the 2008 Newbery Award, if I remember properly–and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. However, I must confess that, although I thought the tone of this book was incredible, and the voice of Elijah so true, I didn’t love this book.
Don’t get me wrong; I could have sat down and talked to Elijah for ages, found out more about what he wanted out of life, learned more about his background and how he felt about being the first child to be born into a free community. But the book gives this fact just a few passing glances, and it never seems as if Elijah’s really invested in what’s happening in his community. It’s like he’s a passer-by, watching what’s going on, instead of being a true protagonist and making things happen in the book.
In fact, it’s not until close to the end of the book that he actually makes things happen, and then, it’s too late for me to really pay attention to him.
Perhaps the error is mine: Perhaps reading the jacket of the book, which promises a very well rounded, really interesting story arc, was a massive mistake. All I know is, I got halfway through the book, and wondered to myself, okay, when is Curtis going to stop painting fun little vignettes of life in this settlement and actually give me something that amounts to a story? When do we get to the events that the book jacket says take place?
It all amounted to a highly dissatisfying experience.
That’s not to say, though, that this book is without its merits. I did enjoy it, for sure. I only wish that it moved a little more quickly, and that the end of it weren’t so heavy-handed on events, as if Curtis suddenly realized that something else had to happen to Elijah if the reader was going to feel as if Elijah had evolved at all over the course of the book.
At any rate, this disappointment isn’t enough to keep me from reading any of Curtis’ other books–his tone is light, and I did find myself getting deeply involved in Elijah’s life. Perhaps I just found Elijah’s understanding of things to be a little slow for my tastes.
This was a pleasurable, easy read. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a great portrayal of life in a free settlement, but not to someone looking for a good story.