Rope Walk (Brown)

Book Reviews
This coming-of-age novel begins with Alice MacCauley on the morning of her 10th birthday, as she sits on the windowsill of her bedroom, viewing the scene below through the opening of a square made by her fingers—a make-believe camera lens, and a trope that repeats throughout the story.... The tone changes as Brown reveals an older Alice in the wonderful last part of the book, where a new note of seriousness and gravity is deeply felt. We leave Alice decidedly more mature than she was in the opening chapter, which means decidedly less sanguine. It's not that we have to worry for her; we never did, but we're moved by the change. She has, by the end of the book, given up her make-believe camera and is taking pictures with a real one that once belonged to her mother. She's off the windowsill and on her feet.
Elizabeth Strout - Washington Post

Like Brown's first novel, Rose's Garden, her sixth sets themes of tolerance and understanding in a picture-postcard setting. In a Vermont town where a description of the local library racks up a dozen adjectives (including "tall," "bracing," "rippling," "silvery" and "delicious"), children collect butterflies and recite "Hiawatha." When Kenneth Fitzgerald, the artist who sponsored the library's transformation from dreary to spectacular, returns to his childhood home dying of AIDS, he asks 10-year-old Alice MacCauley and her neighbors' manic visiting mixed-race grandson, Thelonious Swann— "a tawny little lion cub"—to come by and read to him in the afternoons. Alice's mother died young; her father teaches Shakespeare and recites it around the house (while her older brothers blow smoke rings), so Alice is primed for literature. All three are drawn into Lewis and Clark's journals as Alice reads them aloud; the explorers' historic journey stands in for Fitzgerald's journey toward death and for Alice and Theo's trip into nascent first love and adulthood. The rope Alice walks isn't very high off the ground, but Brown keeps it taut and stretched across some engaging vistas.
Publishers Weekly

Alice is the only daughter of a widower with four sons. Her mother died when she was very young, and Alice is living a protected and love-cushioned life with her beloved father and her rowdy brothers who flit in and out of the house on school vacations. On her tenth birthday, her family takes in a boy her own age who is the grandson of her father's friend, and whose family is in disarray. The boy, who is African American, is an adventurer and knowledgeable in ways she is not, and together they discover things about themselves and the world they are living in. They also meet Kenneth, the artist brother of one of their neighbors, who is dying of HIV, and they decide to make him a rope walk behind his house so that he can safely take walks in the woods by himself. Their well-meaning act leads to an inevitable end. They are separated and Alice's comfortable relationships are disrupted. She must figure out how to put the pieces together and grow up with an understanding that adults and children can be well meaning, but wrongheaded. The story is beautifully written and the just barely pre-pubescent relationship of the young girl and boy is told in a sweet and innocent way. The New England setting is vividly described. —Nola Theiss

In this latest from Brown (Confinement), ten-year-old Alice MacCauley enjoys an idyllic if motherless childhood in quaint Grange, VT, surrounded by five adoring, much older brothers and gently guided through life by Archie, her professor father. Alice's self-contained curiosity meets its match when Thelonius Swann, also ten, joins their household for the summer while his family struggles with debilitating crises. Alice and Theo have an imagination-rich friendship that extends to Kenneth Fitzgerald, a world-renowned sculptor who has returned home, dying of AIDS. The children spend the summer building a rope walk through the woods near Kenneth's home. Intended as a gift to Kenneth to give him back some of the freedom stolen from him by the ravages of his disease, it is the catalyst for a shattering event. It takes a masterly touch to make believable Alice's maturity and her unfiltered forthrightness when telling her story. Brown's exquisite word paintings of the details of childhood are tone-perfect and utterly irresistible. Highly recommended
Beth E. Andersen - Library Journal

(Adult/High School) Alice MacCauley and her family are celebrating her 10th birthday. As the guests arrive, readers are introduced to neighbors, friends, and family, all of whom have hidden prejudices and anxieties. Theo, the biracial grandson of Alice's father's friends, is supposed to be visiting his grandparents, but by the end of the evening he is sharing Alice's bedroom and will become a fixture in her family for the remainder of the season. Over the course of the summer they share secrets, befriend a dying artist, and learn more about suffering, humanity, and intolerance then any child her age needs to know. Together they try to make sense of the world, particularly of how adults think and why people hate the way they do. One of the lessons Alice learns is that the most heartfelt intentions can produce the most tragic results. Teens looking for an angst-filled novel will find that this one asks many questions about life and relationships without providing any pat answers. —Joanne Ligamari, Rio Linda School District, Sacramento, CA
School Library Journal

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