Fishbone's Song

160p. S. & S. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481452267.
Gr 5 Up—Paulsen's latest tells the story of an orphan living with an elderly veteran of the Korean War who teaches him the old songs, the art of the good hunt, and life lessons, told through tales fueled by moonshine—some of which are true. What is never understood, even by the narrator, is how the boy ended up in Fishbone's care. Sometimes his story has biblical connotations, with the baby having floated to the old man in a chest through the bulrushes; sometimes he is the witches' familiar arriving on a witching stump; and sometimes it is a brutal tale of an unwanted illegitimate distant relative's child being handed from one unloving relation to the next until finally he came to stop in the isolated cabin. Either way, the boy shows up with only a couple months of schooling, supplemented by books from the school librarian that arrive with the man who brings the pension check. The unnamed protagonist finds his way, with Fishbone's guidance, to the simple purity of a life where food comes mainly from what you kill for yourself, and self-actualization is realized in that process. Paulsen's tale is reminiscent of Alice Hoffman's "Green Angel" trilogy and Ernest Hemingway's The Nick Adams Stories, and there is a dreamlike quality to the spare writing. Readers discover the protagonist largely through his relationship with nature. Paulsen himself was a lonely and neglected child who at times had to survive through his hunting skills (My Life in Dog Days), and he describes the methods of clean hunting and killing in detail. His hero speaks in a backwoods vernacular, with phrases, single words, and broken sentences that often read like poetry. The forest environment is crafted like a third character, transporting readers into the natural world.
VERDICT Fans of Paulsen and those who love woodsy hunting stories will welcome this latest short novel from the three-time Newbery Honor author.

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