Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee.
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan: NY, 2008.

The first part of the story deals largely with a major change in lifestyle, a move to a different neighborhood and school, plus different jobs for Travis's parents, meaning they are never home. Travis decides he lives in Camazotz of A Wrinkle in Time fame, a perfect house in a perfect city (only it's sterile and boring and his parents are AWOL). One day he can't stand the inactivity, so he goes to an old hang out, the John Steinbeck Library (Salinas, CA) where he learns the city is planning to close the library due to lack of funds. His favorite librarian, Miss Babb, asks for his help in saving the library. She also recommends a book touching on John Steinbeck's works by a little known, local author. Travis becomes totally involved in the Save Our Library campaign, including getting this author, Ernest Oster of Corral de Tierra, involved. Travis regains an interest in Steinbeck's books, which leads him to see Steinbeck's ghost and some of his characters coming to life. He knows he's not crazy, since he shares the experiences, first with Oster, then with his friend Hil, Miss Babb, and his family.

The mystery of Steinbeck, his characters, plus his setting from The Pastures of Heaven (the subject of Oster's book) remain elusive until the end. The whole experience - meeting with Oster, reading the books, watching the behavior of the ghost and characters - leads Travis and Oster to explore the region, looking for a solution to the mystery. Something is obviously being hidden and trying to come to light.

The Save Our Library campaign represents the major theme of volunteering and activism. Saving the world. Through most of the book Travis actively participates in saving the library. At the end (one of the times more people are participating) his dad's band holds a benefit gig. They raise "A whopping $212.79." Travis replies:
"That's not what matters. It's not this one thing that's gonna save the world. It's this one small thing and that one small thing, and all the others. This small thing here, it's part of something much bigger."
Americans used to know that many people contributing their own talents can add up to saving the world. One of the huge things I think is wrong with our country is that too many people seem to think someone needs to be profiting off each little thing. We have lost the sense of giving, especially our time, creatively working towards a common goal without remuneration. It is refreshing to see such a strong example depicted as a cool thing to do.

The exploration and Camazotz/Bella Linda Terrace (Travis's neighborhood) brings up the subject of reality. Living life as opposed to putting it on display or fencing and owning it. The idea of reading opening up horizons, teaching people how to live.

Something discussed regarding Steinbeck is that life mysteries don't have solutions. So Lewis purposefully constructs a story that retains some of the mystery. I realized while reading this book that all stories (maybe even some nonfiction) are mysteries. Some are for solving, others for contemplating or appreciating.

Steinbeck's Ghost reminds me of another mystery, Chasing Vermeer, because there are so many ideas woven into the story. They also both have creative spirit. Here is my favorite passage from the book:

It's about silence. Steinbeck was silent about the real story he knew, and it haunted him. And there was this silence in Bella Linda Terrace that almost killed me, until I remembered the word Camazotz. And Oster, Oster let himself be quiet because someone else told him to be. And Hil and I were almost not-friends because I couldn't talk to him. My parents, too, they let the silence of their jobs shut up their real selves. And if the library closes, then all those books and all those words, they'll be silent forever. You can't let that kind of silence into the world. Make a noise.

Chasing Ray has a great interview with Lewis Buzbee, in which my question of whether Ernest Oster is real or not is answered. The description of Oster's book and anecdotes about Steinbeck and Bradbury seem so real, I had to search to find out. Adding to the mystery of the book.

Characters from The Red Pony are also related to the story.

related-books and reading, characters in literature, libraries, political activists, family life, Salinas, California, moving household, John Steinbeck, mysteries, conduct of life, balancing life, careers, authors, writers, social issues, high interest

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