A prolific author of innovative fiction for middle readers and young adults, Janet Taylor Lisle returns with The Crying Rocks, a book that skillfully weaves history, mystery and humor into a solidly entertaining story.
As in Lisle's previous award-winning novels Afternoon of the Elves and The Art of Keeping Cool, the central characters in The Crying Rocks are likable, inquisitive children who become consumed by their quest for knowledge. Thirteen-year-old Joelle has lived, since she was eight, with Aunt Mary Louise and Uncle Vernon in a small Rhode Island town. They're a happy family, but Joelle's memories of her earlier years are a hazy mishmash of images a confusing compendium of feelings and recollections made all the more uncertain by her adoptive parents' refusal to discuss her heritage. Joelle is disturbed that she cannot remember her early years and responds to her parents' avoidance by discounting her own history as well. She brushes off curiosity about her striking appearance, which is different from that of other kids. And, because she feels unsure and awkward in her own skin, Joelle resists getting friendly with anyone at school. Thus, Joelle finds seven-year-old Misti Martin highly irritating: Misti is one of a gaggle of elementary schoolers who are convinced Joelle is not a mere 13-year-old. They think she is royalty! The kids' devoted pursuit of Joelle is a strong comedic thread that loops through the book and helps balance Joelle's oft-serious demeanor and mentality.
The solidity of Joelle's emotional wall is shaken a bit when Carlos, her classmate, remarks that she looks like a girl in a painting that hangs in the school library. At first she scoffs, but then she feels compelled to see the painting and realizes that she does indeed look like one of the Narragansett Indians depicted in the artwork. As Joelle's friendship with Carlos grows, he teaches her about the history and folklore of the area. He is an avid arrowhead collector and shows her spots in the woods where the Narragansetts lived, gathered and hunted more than three centuries before. The Crying Rocks rocks said to be haunted by the spirits of unwanted children figure prominently in their explorations. It is hard to separate legend and reality in the woods. Joelle and Carlos both have strong emotional reactions to the mysterious place, and shortly after their visit to the site, both of them come to terms with important family issues. The magic of the woods and the Indians' history make a fascinating backdrop to Joelle's coming of age. She begins to forge a connection to her past, but it is only after a family tragedy that the story of her true parentage unfolds.
In The Crying Rocks, Lisle, who has won both a Newbery Honor and Scott O'Dell Award for her previous work, has created a believable marriage of history and fiction. The ending is exciting, replete with cathartic revelations and best of all a heartening example of the power of family love.
Linda M. Castellitto writes from Rhode Island. She hasn't found any arrowheads yet.