Friday, May 13, 2016

Waiting for Augusta, by Jessica Lawson

We have been looking at children’s books this week here at The Jade Sphinx, and easily the funniest of the bunch is Waiting for Augusta, by Jessica Lawson.  It is written with considerable dash and brio, and has genuinely laugh-out-loud passages every few pages.  If you are looking for a lark for your young reader (or for yourself), you can’t go wrong with this book.

Our main protagonist is 11-year-old Benjamin Putter, who has a lump in his throat that he is convinced is a golf ball.  His mother – who runs the remnants of a once thriving pork restaurant in rural Alabama – takes the boy to various doctors who all fail to diagnose the real problem.  Even Ben thinks he may be cracking up … if only he didn’t think the whole thing made so much sense in a strange kind of way.  Ben’s recently deceased father was a huge golf fan, and much of their time together was spent with his dad talking about the game, the greens and the pros.

But … all is not lost.  Ben hears his late-father speaking to him from the urn holding his cremated ashes, telling him that these ashes need to be scattered at Augusta National gold course, the Valhalla of golf champs.  Ben, an amateur painter and gentle soul, runs away from home with his late father in search of the perfect resting spot for the old man.  Things get even more confusing when it seems that other inanimate objects have no hesitation to give Ben helpful advice, leading to many comic interactions.

On the way, he takes up with another runaway, Noni, a take-charge young girl with a gift for giving orders, hatching schemes, and making trouble.  Together, Ben and Noni make it from Hilltop, Alabama to Augusta, with a great deal of fun and hijinks during the trip.  Zany passages include an inebriated guard chicken (much better than a guard dog), passing Ben off as a hapless mute to get sympathy, and navigating the ‘big city’ of Augusta through disguise and improvisation.  The book, though, is no simple romp.  It has a surprise ending that brought this reviewer up for a shock, and is promised to resonate with readers for some time to come.

The great joy of Waiting for Augusta is the interplay between Ben and Noni.  Though only children, they are soon bickering like Lucy and Ricky; unlike sitcom couples, however, Ben learns something from Noni’s talent for schemes, her ability to play tricks and her skill at bending the rules.  In looking to find peace for his father, Ben ultimately finds himself.

Be sure that while the ultimate purpose of Lawson’s book is quite serious, she never flags in her comic invention and deft gift for dialog.  She also has a keen ear for regional prejudices, and the book, set in the South in 1972, is rich in historical details that are interesting and informative to young and old alike.

Jessica Lawson is the author of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, and Nooks & Crannies, a Junior Library Guild Selection.  Waiting for Augusta is a terrific book, and we hope to see more from Lawson in the future.

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