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Word After Word After Word

Review

Word After Word After Word

In novels like SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL and BABY, author Patricia MacLachlan has brought small moments vividly to life through her writing's lyricism and emotional authenticity. In WORD AFTER WORD AFTER WORD, she lovingly explores the work and pleasures of writing, questioning why some choose to write and why others simply must do so.

MacLachlan opens her book with a quote from Joan Didion: "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear." In many ways, this entire novel can be read as a response to, or a conversation with, this passage.

The fourth-grade students at the center of WORD AFTER WORD AFTER WORD had probably never before thought about the purpose of or passion for writing. That is, until a visiting author, Ms. Mirabel, comes to their class for a residency, and soon the desire to write becomes the focus of their lives. Ms. Mirabel challenges them to just keep writing, to commit their thoughts and emotions to paper, to find their own story, "or a character, a place, a poem, a moment in time. When you find it, you will write it. Word after word after word after word."

The five children who routinely meet under a lilac bush have their own stories. Evie is missing her absent mother and looking for a new wife for her lonely father. Russell is charged with caring for his younger brother, Oliver. May's family is adopting a new baby. And the narrator, Lucy, struggles with ongoing sadness and fear surrounding her mother's cancer. She has a hard time talking about these powerful emotions. Could she possibly write about them instead?

As usual, MacLachlan's writing here is both grounded and lyrical, filled with small passages that readers will want to stop and muse over for a while. It also includes many examples of student poetry and the published writing samples Ms. Mirabel reads to the children as inspiration (these include lengthy passages from MacLachlan's previous fiction, in an odd and slightly jarring self-referential fashion). Although it's certain that the most receptive audience for her story will be those who aspire to write, part of her point here is that everyone, no matter their perceived aptitude or personal goals, has a story that's worth telling, a perspective that's worth sharing. Even uptight Miss Cash, the children's regular fourth-grade teacher, surprises everyone when she demonstrates her own understanding of what it means to write and connect with others, seen and unseen.

As a meditation on the function and value of reading and writing, WORD AFTER WORD AFTER WORD will speak not only to children but also to adults, making this an ideal read-aloud. In the book itself, the children's poems allow them to connect in new ways with the adults in their lives. Similarly, reading the novel together might inspire new and deeper bonds between parents and children, and might prompt both to embark on their own journey of reading, writing and reflection.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 18, 2010

Word After Word After Word
by Patricia MacLachlan

  • Publication Date: May 18, 2010
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
  • ISBN-10: 0060279710
  • ISBN-13: 9780060279714