Thursday, December 08, 2005
A first novel introduces three young sisters and their adventures in Orland
By DAN BARNETT
Jonathan Perez is a writer worth watching. According to an author's note, he lives in Orland with his three daughters, Suede, Alex, and Sara, and has just published a book about the fictional Piper family. James is a divorced father of three girls named, curiously enough, Suede, Alex and Sara. Together they live in a small and rather rundown house in the Orland countryside, right near the Robbins Deli and down the road a bit from the Shady Oaks trailer park, where young Nitsy Blu lives with her divorced mom.
Nitsy is something of a rival who calls Suede, Alex and Sara Piper "SASP" for short. "SASP" ($13.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing in Chico), illustrated by Steve Ferchaud and appropriate for pre-teens, tells two tales, "The Yellow Road" and "Honey Jar."
"Suede was 10, the oldest of the three," Perez writes. "Besides her sisters, she had two very special friends: a tattered beige bear named Colby, given to her by her mother, and a little wooden sword, given to her by Grandma Cookie (who, we are told "could do just about anything except bake cookies"). Suede was tall and thin with milky white skin and her eyes were two different shades of brown.
"Alex was 8. Being the middle child was at times difficult for her. She was too young to have the same privileges that Suede had and too old to get away with the things that Sara got away with. Her chocolate eyes matched her wavy chestnut-colored curls and dark skin. Unlike Suede and Sara, Alex referred to her dad by his first name. James didn't seem to mind.
"Sara was 6, the youngest of the three and quite the jester. To get a quick laugh, she would stick her spaghetti strand hair in the corners of her almond shaped mouth, then put two fingers under her upper lip and stretch her bottom eyelids down with the other hand. If this didn't work, she'd flare her freckled button nose and cross her eyes."
The first tale has the sisters, egged on by Nitsy, sneaking out of the house early one morning after a heavy rain to look for the legendary "yellow road," allegedly guarded by the white droll, near Stony Creek on the outskirts of Orland.
A droll? Why, part deer and part troll, of course.
The children were not growing up privileged. James made an honest living at one of the two tire shops in Orland. The roof leaked on the family's house and Suede had holes in her socks.
Nitsy fared no better. "She was wearing an old torn jacket that had a broken zipper," Perez writes. "She was using safety pins to keep the flaps of her jacket closed, but as she moved around, they would separate, letting in the coolness of the morning. Her jeans had holes in the knees and her beanie looked more like an old sock that was stretched to fit just the top of her head."
As the reader might guess, all does not go well in the quest for the yellow road, the "trail of gold." There are hijinks aplenty and the author has opportunity to talk about the various stages of fear as the children seem to encounter the stuff of legend.
The second and longer tale takes place in springtime, and Perez revels in description: "Like melting snow, the shadows of early morning dripped away with the light of a new day. In an open field, just outside of Orland, wild daisies, daffodils and orange poppies were awakening. They stretched, opened and reached for the sun's warmth with their oblique petals. Opposite the field was an almond orchard in full bloom. Like specks of pepper, droning honeybees slowly appeared on the bouquets of white and pinkish blossoms."
It's a story of "two of Fairview Elementary School's meanest bullies," Billy Jones and Mickey Stalls (whose parents refuse to believe their children could do anything wrong). Most of the action takes place at Mr. Robbins' store and in the end the sisters find they have more things in common with Nitsy Blu than they thought. Everyone learns a honey of a lesson -- even James, who comes to understand the importance of listening to his daughters.
"SASP" is an engaging escapade; I look forward to more of the Piper family adventures.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to email@example.com. Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.