Alida's Song

Book review by
Megan McDonald, Common Sense Media
Alida's Song Book Poster Image
Teen breaks through veneer of hurt and shyness.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages
Violence

Opening chapter contains fleeting contemplation of suicide due to surrounding squalor, including drunken parents.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drunken parents.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that clear writing and strong, wholesome characters are the trademarks of this pastoral novel.

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What's the story?

A boy's fourteenth summer changes when he is invited to spend time with his grandmother, who is a cook on a working farm. The nervous thrill begins when he is ordered to drive the old pickup truck himself twenty-five miles north to the farm. His initiation comes with a trip to the outhouse, in which he is attacked and knocked out by watchdog geese.

The unnamed boy soon becomes part of the daily rhythm of the farm--milking cows, pulling mustard, eating like a horse, listening to stories, even learning to dance to the fiddle and bones of Gunnar and Olaf, the farm's owners. Just watching cows brings pleasure. \"See how they come?\" Olaf said. \"It's so old--cows have been coming to barns since before ... before everything.\"

Is it any good?

This sauntering, cadenced tale matches the steady, unhurried pace of a farm in summer. In contrast to Gary Paulsen's high-powered action-adventure novels, this is a survival story of a different sort. Defeat turns to direction for an introspective 14-year-old boy when he glimpses a kinder side of life beyond the neglectful, alcoholic stupor of his parents in their grubby, rundown apartment, a sorry excuse for a home.

At the farm, the boy newly finds himself in the maternal embrace of his compassionate grandmother, where he is able to break through the veneer of hurt and shyness. A final memorable scene, in which he dances with his grandmother to an old song, sets the tone for a better life ahead.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the nature of this story. How is it a survival story? If you've read other books by this author, do you see common themes?

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