Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson

I am surprised I liked this book. Toning the Sweep is a non-plot driven story. Not a whole lot happens. It focuses more on character development and relationships than the rising action/climax/ resolution of a traditional story arch. Yet, I loved the characters. They felt real. Johnson presents common ground between reader and character which made it easy to empathize which, in my opinion, is one of the most important reasons to read -- to learn about people and see ourselves in their shoes for a moment.

Emmie has always enjoyed visiting her grandmother Ola in the California desert. But, when Emmie and her mother visit Ola now, they know it is for the last time. Ola has cancer and they have come to pack Ola's things and say goodbye. It is a soul-searching experience for Emmie (14) who strives to understand her care-free grandmother and her care-worn mother.

What could have been a sad and depressing story turned out to be an uplifting read. Reading Toning the Sweep felt like watching an incredibly pivotal moment in a family's life on T.V. -- like I was given an insightful snapshot. Emmie documents her grandma's life with a video camera and so the reader sees much of the story through Emmie's camera lens -- a perspective that I enjoyed and worked well in revealing Emmie's concerns.

Ola is a great character. Her eccentric behavior is a testament to her independent spirit but also her flawed character. Has Ola run away to the desert to hide from the past? Her strength carved out a great life there but at a cost to her daughter's well being. Emmie pieces these things together, uncovering more about her mother and grandmother's relationship, as she helps pack Ola's household, sorting the "keep", "donate" and "throw aways" of a lifetime.

David is Emmie's friend who she sees when visiting Ola. One of the few males in the story, David's character is important. He is exploring his Native American past, embracing it as a part of who he is, and helps Emmie think about her African American heritage.

No character in this story is superfluous. Each character adds something important in showing Emmie who her family is and who she is. For a little book, Toning the Sweep packs a big punch. It is a touching story about how life's tragedies effect people so deeply and how people can touch others deeply as well. It is about family and about inter-generational relationships between women. Johnson's writing blended metaphor and symbolism seamlessly, enhancing but never detracting from the story. This book counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Scholastic, 1994     Pages: 112
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: borrowed from my teacher     

1 comment:

  1. Sounds good! The title is interesting, too.
    Did you find the book in your library?