Friday, November 8, 2013

2014 Second Takes: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

This book. This book, this book, this book. Friends, I have been wrestling with it since last spring, and I still don't know what the heck to do with it.

All of my discerning Goodreads friends love it. Monica Edinger loves it. Lisa Von Drasek loves it. It's on the National Book Award shortlist.

As for me? I picked it up last March or so, got thirty pages in, and promptly threw it over the cubicle wall at Sam. The folksy voice of the intrusive narrator was just nails on a chalkboard to me. Sam agreed.

But time went by, and people weren't liking it any less, so I figured I'd better put it on my list of semi-finalists and give the old girl another chance. This time I alternated between the book and the audiobook, which is read by Lyle Lovett - a great favorite of mine. I thought it might help me appreciate the charms of The True Blue Scouts.

Now, sports fans, I am an easy sell where audiobooks are concerned. The fact is, I just like to sit down and have somebody read me a story, and I hardly care what it is. My daughter is like that too, but more so.

Even so, several chapters into True Blue Scouts - chapters full of raccoonish fretting about the perils of climbing a pine tree - she turned to me and said, "Why doesn't he just climb the tree already?!"


In the end, I was forced to admit that this is probably a very good book, but Ella's question really gets at the heart of what bothers me about it. As Sam put it, "The pacing is leisurely, full of odd digressions and interludes that don't go anywhere, but the tone of the book is insistent, even alarmist, which made me feel rather like the novel was crying wolf at me for most of its duration." I didn't feel like that was as much of a liability here as it was in Keeper, but it did grate on me. Climb the tree already, Bingo. Get to the point.

I have other quibbles too - would a twelve-year-old boy really think that coffee would literally put hair on his chest? - but they're just that. Quibbles. Objectively, True Blue Scouts has a lot of distinguished features. The setting is magnificently realized, the style is both distinguished and individually distinct, and the characters (within the rules of their tall tale framework) are quite vivid. Any problems I have with it come down to a matter of taste. I'm afraid I'm just not cut out for sugar pies. 


  1. ahahaha, a few weeks ago i posted a facebook update:

    brought home one of the national book award nominees for children's lit, thinking it might make a good bedtime book for the girls. started to read jacket flap to josie: "Raccoon brothers Bingo and J'miah are—" "NO."

    and we were done.

  2. This is a tough one. I do love it, but also am sympathetic to those for whom voice and pacing are irritating. That you are able to acknowledge that it is a good book despite your personal distaste, is just the stance everyone on the Committee will need to take.