New book by Newbery winner Paterson. Down-to-earth tale of a musical family in Appalachia
Come Sing, Jimmy Jo, by Katherine Paterson. New York: E. P. Dutton, Lodestar Books, 1985. 197 pp. $12.95. (Age 10 and up.) Japan . . . Chesapeake Bay . . . the imagined world of Terabithia. Faithful readers of this popular children's author who are familiar with her other stories and their settings will not be disappointed in her most recent shift in scenery -- the Appalachian hills of West Virginia.
Grandma, who smokes a pipe but also gives 11-year-old James the moral guidance he needs, knows he can sing, and sing very well. She tells James, ``You got the gift.'' Only, she warns, ``The Lord don't give private presents.'' James has never sung for anyone but Grandma. But when his family returns from a country tour, she insists he sing with the group.
James, known on stage as Jimmy Jo, dressed in fancy Western gear, picking his own guitar, which he calls Chester, sings in front of a large crowd -- and the audiences love him.
This is a show business story, complete with backstage rivalry, shining moments on stage, and the perils and pleasures of celebrity. But it is not about superstardom. It is about a poor family -- James's mother, Olive (whose stage name is Keri-Su); his father, Jerry Lee; and his Uncle Earl. They perform at fairs and in high school auditoriums, and they eventually land a job on a local TV show.
The TV show is a success, and Jimmy Jo does get his picture in the newspaper. But it is James, as he is known in school, who must learn how to separate show biz from his everyday life.
What Katherine Paterson does so well is catch the cadence of the locale without sounding fake. There isn't a false note in her diction. She has created a West Virginian world that is entirely believable: homely, honest, good-hearted. There is an integrity to this family which lets James buy glasses like John Denver wears but doesn't approve of Denver's music because it is pop and not authentic country.
Paterson knows children, their fears and their joys. We share James's relief when he escapes his country music world to visit his Grandma from time to time; we feel the press of his fans after each show; we understand his need to feel ``invisible'' in school. We believe James when he admits, after an important confrontation, ``I done it . . . I grew up.'' This book is James's personal, inward journey, and it is deeply felt.