Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
A masterfully written book, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy combines fictional characters with an historical event in Maine. A community of former black slaves on an island just off the coast of Maine poses a contrived hindrance to the economic advancement of the town on the mainland. In their racial bias, the rich elite of the town determine to force the islanders off the island, drawing the new minister and his family into the conflict. Historically, the extrusion of the black community was successful, a grievous reality of our nation's past.
Several underlying conflicts woven in and around the primary conflict give the story texture and depth. The author, Gary D. Schmidt, makes use of all four forms of literary conflict: man against man, man against himself, man against nature, and man against God. The racial bigotry contained in the historical event drives the storyline. However, religious strife, that creates both inner, personal turmoil with one's conscience, and outer, interpersonal-relationship contentions, also dominates the themes of the book. Family tensions, husband-wife and parent-child, constitute other major clashes, even though they may be hidden within the confines of the walls of the home. With subtle character movements, Schmidt exposes heart realities and transitions of emotion.
Not only is the book rich with real, true-to-life conflict, but it is also rich with metaphor, particularly the metaphoric use of personification. Throughout the book, weather plays an important role. The wind becomes a character, interacting with the people, with other elements of nature, and with circumstances, adding an intriguing, mystical dimension to the storyline.
In a sense, the book is a "coming of age" story. It chronicles the metamorphosis of a young junior high age boy into a man—not necessarily a man in years, but in character. Though there are several dynamic personalities in the story (In literature, a dynamic character is one who undergoes a change through the events of the story; whereas a static character does not change.), the perspective of the main character, the "Buckminster Boy," is transformed on multiple levels.
Schmidt's book reveals the author's insightful understanding of grief, of the difficult transitions involved in location moves and in the growing-up years, and of social-political pressures. Ultimately, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is a story of redemption, of choosing the higher path, the way of forgiveness. It teaches us to allow people to be dynamic: life and its circumstances change us. Let us make room for that—in ourselves and in others. For those who are unwilling to change, to take the higher road, God has His own ways of bringing about justice. Let us also make room for, and wait for, that.
By way of warning, if you should read this book (particularly if you read it aloud to your children), there are a few instances where the characters use God's name in vain or use a curse word. There are also a couple occasions of the son's disrespect toward his father. Though the father is not acting in a manner worthy of respect at those points in the story, the words and actions are still inappropriate from a Biblical perspective. But most troubling was the use of Darwin's theory of evolution and his book, On the Origin of the Species, as a guiding light to truth and wonder. This aspect of the book seemed ill-fitting and incongruous, destroying the logical continuity of a true worship of God as opposed to the false, hypocritical worship of God. These issues within the book would need to be discussed openly.