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"The rule for primates, maybe,
is to keep moving on and building nests, one at a time, until they learn to do
Owen Thomas Griffiths was
different. He was unusually short. He was unusually intelligent. He was
unusually unusual. Most seventeen year old boys would consider this a tragedy,
but Owen didn't view his uniqueness as a handicap. He had already outgrown the
need to be like everyone else. He had done the "pack yourself into
groups" and "dressing exactly like others" until he grew to
despise himself for it. He discovered he was happy inside himself. Well sort
of. His mother wanted him to go to State College. He wanted to go to MIT or Cal
Tech. His father thought any teenager would die to have a brand new car
for his seventeenth birthday. But he thought that made him like every other
teenage boy, and he "had finally realized that that's what [he] wasn't.
and was never going to be." Owen knew he needed help finding out what he
was, and that is when he met Natalie Fields. She had been there, living two
blocks up his street for a couple of years. She had been in a few of his
classes at the high school, but Owen hadn't really noticed her as a person
until that rainy day he sat next to her on the bus.
Something happened to Owen that day
that he couldn't exactly explain, but Natalie made him come out of his womb of
isolation that he had decided would be his shelter from the pain of invisibility.
Sitting next to her on the bus that day he did a most un-Owenlike thing. He
became the typical teen age boy who upon meeting a girl becomes a clown. He
made her laugh. This hidden ability which had lain dormant thus far surprised
even him. And so began a relationship and a personal growth that bloomed and
faded and bloomed again leading Owen to the realization of the nature of real
love. "It was not an emotion or a desire, it was a confirmation, it was a
glory, like seeing the stars."
In this simple little tale of
teenage discovery, Ursula K. LeGuin has used a teenager's voice to ask
the big questions. Why am I here? What am I looking for? What makes me unique?
Although it was written almost thirty years ago, this recently published
paperback edition tells a story that is still fresh and, with the exception of
the price of a new car costing $3000, contemporary. Most young adult readers
will be able to identify with Owen's struggles with his peers and the need to
find his place among them. They will recognize his discomfort with the opposite
sex. They will identify with his struggles with his parents in his need to
separate his identity from the one they have painted for him. What they
will not be able to identify with, and this is not exactly a trivial thing, is
his not wanting, and almost even resenting his father's gift to him of a brand
new car. It's a bit too unrealistic a characterization of a teenage boy. Few if
any would turn up their noses at such a gift. It's much more likely that
today's young people would expect such a gift. Owen, on the other
hand, views the gift as the very thing that makes him ordinary. And even at the
risk of being labeled a misfit, he would do anything to avoid being ordinary.
Younger readers who find themselves on the outside of the group looking in will
see Owen as their idol. Older teenage readers will likely exclaim, "Gimme
a break!". However, if they can get past this incongruity, they may
recognize Owen's road of discovery as one on which the young adult readers
themselves may have begun. It is a road with twists and turns that has
surprises and vexations. It's a road that's brand new without impression or
experience. But most of all, except for the occasional companion, it's a road
that is walked alone.
© 2005 Lorraine
Lorraine Rice provides the
following information about herself.
- Adjunct Professor of English and ESL
at Suffolk Community College, NY for 16 years.
- Poet and Artist My web page: http://hometown.aol.com/euterpel66/myhomepage/poetry.html
- Widow and mother of three adult
children and one granddaughter.
- BA St. John's University, Jamaica NY
- MA SUNY at Stony Brook, NY
- Like to explore: the Internet, evolutionary-psychology,
countries, books, people, outdoors, flea markets, and old roads.
- Like to create: portraits, gardens,
found-object sculpture, lists, poems, and friendships.
- Like to travel: to most of US States,
Canada, Bermuda, England, Brazil, China, and Mexico.
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