The SideRoad Kids: Tales from Chippewa County by Sharon M. Kennedy
Review by Tom Powers, Michigan In Books
This fine collection of short stories focuses on a group of 6th grade friends in the 1950s living near Brimley, in the U.P. I was a kid in Flint in the 1950s, and if I had read stories like these when a 5th- or 6th-grader I would have been taken aback by the differences in these U.P. kids’ lives and mine. Most of the stories are evocative slice-of-life pieces, some are humorous, and quite a few serious and thought provoking. The stories are honest, believable, sometimes painful, and all capture time, place, and culture with near perfection. A clutch of well-defined, likeable and interesting 6th-grade characters reappear throughout the stories and bind the book together as a whole.
In one of the stories that moved me the most a 6th grade boy faces life with crossed eyes, an alcoholic mother, and a father who deserted his family. Yet the kid is optimistic and considers himself good looking. In another story I may never forget a girl who wrote a story for English class in which she imagines God as Jackie Gleason who with his fist closed and fury in his face threatens to send Alice to the moon. When Daisy asks if she can read it in class the teacher, without looking at it, throws the story in the waste basket. It was a stunning realization that one of the most popular comedy shows on TV in the Fifties repeatedly made a joke out of the threat of physical spousal abuse. I can’t stop wondering how women who were being physically abused thought of those scenes and the audience laughter that followed.
If I don’t know how upper elementary children will react to the book, I do know adults will find it find it enjoyable and a fascinating depiction of children facing life in the Fifties.