Author: Kathryn Lasky
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
To Georgie, the polio epidemic in the summer of 1952 means no swimming, no theater, no anything in crowded public places. But when she moves across town and finds out that right next door lives a girl in an iron lung, her perspective begins to change. At first fascinated by the idea of living inside a confined space and having a machine breathe for her, as Georgie gets to know Phyllis better she begins to understand what it means to be so disabled and the effects it can have on a person. It takes growing up fast and having strength and courage to prevent a tragedy caused by Phyllis' manipulation.
I found myself paying a lot more attention to my breathing as I read this book. The vivid descriptions of how the iron lung breathed for Phyllis and how Georgie felt when listening to the machine working made me feel as if I were standing there as well. The language of the book is clear and straightforward, which is always great in a middle grade book, but at the same time it is rich and detailed, and it isn't "dumbed down" at all. In fact, the theme is pretty intense for an eleven year old, dealing with life and death and the meaning of living, but it is handled so well that it is not at all inappropriate for little kids.
There are really two parts to the book - the historical aspect and the theme. The history, as expected from an author who actually lived through it at the same age as the protagonist, is so real and accurate that I felt transported to that time period for a bit. Not only the part about the iron lung, but every part of the 1950's seems so real and vivid. The theme is an important one and very clearly developed, along with Georgie's maturation. At the same time, the theme doesn't take over the whole book so that it is overly pervasive. Georgie also deals with the problems of moving to a new neighborhood, fitting in a new school, and making friends. Although she ends up having to deal with problems of major proportions, she is a normal eleven year old, one that all eleven year olds can relate to.
The one thing I didn't like about this book was how Phyllis' secret is outed. She ends up admitting to manipulating Georgie's brother, but I felt like that was a bit unrealistic. Someone who could lie to everyone around her for so long, plan and plot and use people the way Phyllis did would not destroy her plan just because a little girl says something about it. That didn't ring true to me.
But the book really is a great book, and if I were still teaching, I'd recommend it to my students! It's thought-provoking, extremely well-written, and enjoyable.
Thanks to Amanda of A Patchwork of Books for reviewing Chasing Orion!