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Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas

Review

Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas

In “Man of the Iron Heads,” Jake, whom everyone calls J, lives in a sketchy neighborhood filled with drugs and violence and little chance of escape. He gets most of his clothes and food from the dumpsters and spends his time avoiding a drug lord named Blade and his thugs. One day, while sitting in the basement looking into the windows of the expensive lofts on the other side of the alley, J sees “the man with the iron heads.” Through the man, J discovers the beauty of creating through art and unearths his own talent. But can he escape his dark world and shape a new life for himself?

In “Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Girl,” Jo lives in a run-down trailer and is unloved and unnoticed by her drunken and abusive parents. At school, children sneer and stare at her, and teachers look at her with pity. Everything changes, though, when Jo turns 12. She finds her first dog, then her second and third. After they come into her life, she is loved and her dreams are good. Jo spends her time talking to them in the woods. They are her only friends until she meets Rose. Through the dogs, Jo and Rose feel safe and unafraid, and learn never to give up.

To avoid being put in foster care, Jamie has to follow “Erik’s Rules.” When Jamie was 10 and his brother, Erik, was 15, they ran away from home and from beatings by drunken men who were staying with their mother. Until then, the only person who kept them safe was their grandpa, who got sick and was put in a nursing home.

One of the worst drawbacks about not having a place to live is that Jamie can’t have a dog. He has a talent for drawing, and his best work is when he draws dogs. One day, while doing sketches, he meets Greg, a volunteer at a local shelter, who recognizes Jamie’s talent. Even though their lives are not perfect, because of dogs and art, Jamie and Erik have hope and a reason to smile.

In PAINTINGS FROM THE CAVE, award-winning author Gary Paulsen paints stark and edgy pictures of the lives of children who, like him, have “slipped through the cracks.” In some ways, these novellas remind me of the adventure stories in his Hatchet series, where the main character is lost in the wilderness and must draw upon his strengths to survive. What makes this book so compelling is Paulsen’s ability to create vivid characters who overcome obstacles and who flourish after they discover and fall in love with the beauty of art and the unconditional love of dogs.

Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on September 13, 2011

Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas
by Gary Paulsen

  • Publication Date: September 13, 2011
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
  • ISBN-10: 0385746849
  • ISBN-13: 9780385746847