April 22, 2011

Oskaloosa Moon by Gary Sutton

Often the life of a reviewer can be tedious. We agree to review books because the description sounds interesting, and because it's actually available in paper form (which is getting rarer and rarer). Then it arrives and we realize maybe it wasn't what we'd hoped, but we'd agreed to write a review. So we trudge on through, throwing covetous glances at the stack of neglected books in our To Be Read piles. Why? Because we live with the hope that one day, one of these books that arrive in the mail will finally be worth it. It's like Edison looking for the right filament for his incandescent bulb. Or Darwin, measuring finch beaks on the Gallapagos. Only slightly more glamorous.

I did say "slightly."

I am pleased to announce that at long last I have found once such gem. Oskaloosa Moon isn't merely a good read, or merely a five star book. Its value is impossible to measure. In fact, its near impossible to explain, too. Before tackling this review, I read other reviews of this book and found I wasn't alone in this difficulty. This book doesn't fit into any one genre, yet it is simple. It can't be compared to anything else no matter how I stretch it, yet I can't stop trying to because it is so relatable.

Oskaloosa Moon is the story of a boy who was born with a disfigured face, but a completely normal mind and body. He grows up in a small town where he does his best to fit in, work hard, and make his family proud. But no matter how hard he tries, someone is always there holding him back. Despite this, he remains good-hearted, optimistic, and loyal. Because of this particular personality trait, some reviewers have compared him to Forrest Gump, but that doesn't quite wash. This is the basic story.

The heart of the story is that before there were laws protecting the disabled and public service announcements and children's books featuring kids in wheelchairs, the disabled - or those who are simply different in any way- found life incredibly difficult, and sometimes lived almost entirely segregated from "normal" society. Moon is the perfect poster boy for this group of people because of his disfigurement. He is also, however, the poster boy for us all, because all of us have been held prisoner in some way due to our own outward appearances.

It's one of life's big questions. Are we truly the way we see ourselves, or the way others see us? We can never know for certain, because no matter how we manipulate our appearances, no matter how hard we work to change our lives, others will only ever see us as they choose to, and act on that.

As I read Oskaloosa Moon I could easily see it as a book that will one day be standard reading in high school literature classes. I could also see it as a film. I could see Moon standing behind a film projector, the monochrome light pulsing over his hopeful face. I could see him walking down a San Bernardino sidewalk with the sunlight reflecting off his stunt helmet (before San Bernardino became mired in smog). And I could see in him every person who's ever ached to be truly seen.

I received a copy of this book for the purpose of review. It was a hardcover, not something you ebook snots can appreciate. And it was signed. Twice. Which really made me feel special. :)

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