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Yes, We Wear Shoes

Well, I'm a little wound up about this one. I'm no stranger to Mary Downing Hahn's work. I've loved Wait Till Helen Comes since I was young. I recommended her work to countless kids who were looking for something scary. Her latest title, Took, though pushes many of my buttons.

Took takes place in the fictional Woodville, WV. Woodville is a small, rural village that, apparently, has not yet aged out of the 1950s (would Hahn have us believe that all small towns in WV are like this?). The WV of this book is backwards: school is like something from the midcentury, the textbooks are 30 years old, the town is boarded up and practically abandoned, the people are backwards and not welcoming, it is wild and beautiful but in the same way that a set of conjoined twins might be admired as Siamese in the freak show. This novel appears to take place in the 21st century, but the WV in which it is set is still living in the 20th century...and not the late 20th century (the school secretary uses a typewriter, no one seems to own a computer, all children are dirty and hateful). Here's a sample passage, "Nobody there [the strip mall on the edge of town] cared where my parents came from or if they went to church. The people who worked at the shopping center were practically all outsiders themselves, from cities such as Charleston. In Woodville, they claimed, you'd never be accepted if you weren't married to your cousin. Dad laughed at this..."

What is perhaps most infuriating is that Took relies very heavily on mountain lore to generate the action of the novel. The narrator, Daniel, and his family move from Connecticut to West Virginia because of some financial setbacks. There, they openly hate the locals and the landscape (and just cannot figure out why they aren't accepted). All the while, they are being watched by a mysterious figure in the forest surrounding their home. Fifty years earlier, a seven-year-old girl was taken from her home (the same home where Daniel and his seven-year-old sister, Erica, now live). Erica lives in mortal fear of the forest and of being 'took' herself.

The actual story of Took is really pretty wonderful. As far as "scary" middle grade books go, this one is genuinely good. Hahn's writing is always well-crafted and smart. She knows exactly what she's doing. I would recommend this book...were it not for the ugly stereotyping.

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