Multiple viewpoints add flavor to book
Published: Sunday, January 18, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 18, 2004 at 12:15 a.m.
I'm a sucker for a dog story. And I'm dancing a jig over the fact that in Gordon Korman's novel, "No More Dead Dogs," I don't have to reach for the Kleenex. But the character that is really stealing my heart is Rachel.
Here she comes, second chapter, first verse, setting out a structure for the novel that tells us this story is going to be given to us through several viewpoints, and Rachel's voice is clearly going to keep us in stitches.
In my phone conversation with Gordon Korman, I asked him about Rachel and her special trait for writing letters to Julia Roberts, spilling out her most intimate thoughts. How did he come upon that idea for his character?
Well, Gordon's inside story on Rachel proves that even a fictional birth can leave you ragged.
"When I started the novel, I began telling it in the third person viewpoint, but it felt flat. I had tried using multiple viewpoints in a novel I wrote called 'The Chicken Doesn't Skate,' and it had turned out well. So I tried it out for 'Dead Dogs.' Then when I sent the completed draft of the novel to my editor, he pointed out that Rachel was the weakest character. It was in my next draft that I came upon the idea of her writing letters to Julia Roberts."
Gordon's instincts were right, and as a result, Rachel is a colorful, true-to-life funny girl. And boy, did she have to be. As the second voice to be heard, following the wisecracking monologue from the main character, Wallace Wallace, Rachel's job is no less taxing than riding a greased skateboard.
She doesn't slip, either. She holds her own in the choir of four other viewpoints, and she even gets her man in the end.
I'm not going to give away more. But my novel buddy, Stephen Burnett in the eighth grade at Fort Clarke, is right up front about the ending. "It was definitely my favorite part. I loved it when the dog blows up, and Wallace jumps on top."
Lest you call me a liar, let me make it clear here that the dog that blows up is a mechanical dog, and besides, Wallace Wallace keeps the blow-up to a minimum. At one point, the audience watching the play in which the dog
stars begins chanting, "Shep is okay! His health is super! He's strong as the shaft of his pooper scooper!"
Who put the cherry bomb in Old Shep is the mystery that leads to Wallace Wallace's transformation. It's a plot climax that has more reversals than a cat chasing its own tail.
"Yeah," Stephen Burnett says, "Now that I've finished this book, I know I'll always remember how funny it was." Stephen, who is an avid skateboarder, read this novel in only two days. "I found the different viewpoints confusing at first, but then really liked knowing what different characters were thinking. But of all those telling the story, Wallace Wallace was definitely my favorite. What I learned through all the funny things that happened was pretty serious because the novel lets you see it's always best to judge friends for who they are, not for which group they belong to."
Oh yeah, this novel is about more than exploding dogs and high jinks. When I talked with Gordon Korman about the theme, he explained: "All my books have been about the dynamics of friendship. In this one, I wanted to address the acceptance of differences - not the huge differences, but the little ones that are not so easy to point to - such as kids who like football and those who like drama, and so on."
Horace Freeman, a seventh grader at Gainesville's Howard Bishop School, says he also read "No More Dead Dogs" in only two days. Horace is a talented artist and finds he can't stop sketching almost everything. "Some days I think I'll be an artist, other days I think I'll be a lawyer, so we'll see."
Horace's mother and father taught him to read when he was about four. "I always have a book going. I read in my room every night, and this book was so funny I couldn't help but read it fast. The characters sort of reminded me of my friends. But it made me sad that Wallace Wallace was punished for simply telling what he honestly believed about the book he had read. If he hated books in which dogs died, that was his opinion, and he should have been able to say it in a book review."
Horace adds: "But it was neat how Wallace Wallace learned to bend the truth to make his friend Rachel feel better. My favorite part was near the end when Wallace's best friends get together."
And for the inside scoop on Wallace Wallace, here is what Gordon Korman whispered in my ear: "He is a character based on my own dad, who is the most honest person I know, honest to the point that it is almost a negative attribute."
Next week, we'll hear comments on "Forever Island," so hurry and turn those pages. This novel has been part of the body of work that has led to Patrick Smith's being nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times. Don't miss it.
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