Michigan In Books reviews The Sideroad kids

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.

SHARON M. KENNEDY resides on the land of her youth near the country town of Brimley in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She’s surrounded by childhood memories and a way of life that is no more. Instead of relying on intricate plots and schemes, her stories are driven by the characters and their interactions with each other, their teachers, and their parents. The authenticity and innocence of the kids will remind adults of days gone by. Ms. Kennedy writes a weekly newspaper column for The Sault News and the Cheboygan Tribune. She authored Life in a Tin Can, a random collection of previously published columns. Her work also appears regularly in the U.P. Reader
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