To read poet and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye's tales of driving and being driven is to hear her voice in every syllable. Like her poetry, mostly written for adults, Nye's prose comes from deep within a heart that believes, more that anything else, in the power of human connection.
Thirty-one stories of conversations and adventures while in cars make up I'll Ask You Three Times, Are You OK? Nye's gift is her ability to ask the right questions, remember the answers and recount them in a way that erases the distance between writer and reader. I nod in agreement when she remarks that all we see of taxi drivers are the sides and backs of their heads. And, when she is in a car accident (in a friend's car), I feel her sadness and responsibility as she surveys the damage to the totaled GTO.
In Dora, Naomi finds herself with an unexpected passenger shortly after finally passing her driver's test: An old lady who speaks only Spanish plunks herself in the back of the car and will not get out. This situation had not been included in the dull driving manual I had been poring over, reluctantly, for more than a year. So far every problem I had encountered in my life had not been predicted or described by anyone in advance. Indeed. And since she does not quite know what to do with this lady, now called Dora, she takes her home to her own mother, who helps her find her home.
These stories are for any age children will nod and laugh in recognition while adult readers will find themselves grabbing for a slip of paper to write down quotations and sentences to treasure. Poignant, hilarious, terrifying and always soul-sustaining, Nye's stories remind us what it is to be truly human. Put on your seatbelt; you're in for a satisfying read.
Robin Smith drives her late-model Saturn in Nashville when she can't get her husband to do the driving.