Bushman Lives!

Bushman Lives! illus. by Calef Brown. 248p. CIP. Houghton Harcourt. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-38539-6; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-92778-7. LC 2011048211.
Gr 7 Up—Much of the humor in Bushman Lives! depends on a fairly high degree of cultural literacy, but its sheer goofiness will captivate reluctant readers. Harold Knishke, 16, plays the flute so badly that his teacher begs him to give up lessons and buys the instrument from him for $50. The teen then has Saturdays free to explore 1960s Chicago. He meets an astounding number of characters, all of whom have life lessons to offer him. The individual who appears to have taught him the most, however, is the eponymous Bushman, a 427-pound gorilla with whom Harold communed as a young boy. Bushman was happy in the zoo and docile enough to play outside his cage, until he decided he didn't want to go back and his keepers thereafter kept him confined. Bushman still managed to live a good life, though conscious of his imprisonment. Harold, conscious of the constraints that society puts on him, learns to move about easily through the power of art (especially abstract-De Kooning and Kandinsky). There are heavy messages, but they are delivered in a style that is part Marx Brothers, part S.J. Perelman, and part Andy Milonakis. The standout secondary characters are Geets Hildebrand, Harold's wall-climbing buddy who brings him Guinness and bananas to toast the dead Bushman; Molly the Dwerg and her not-dog/not-wolf familiar, Wolluf; and Harold's understanding father, who works for the Salami Board. Pinkwater re-creates the era so well-including ubiquitous drinking and smoking-but refers to a suitcase record player as "old-fashioned." It would have been pretty newfangled in 1960. A very minor slip in what is otherwise a great read, this is a paean to the transformative power of art, and vintage Pinkwater.Nina Sachs, Walker Memorial Library, Westbrook, ME

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