Top positive review
An eloquently concise tribute to just being a kid
Reviewed in the United States on January 25, 2008
"In those days I was many whats. A kid can be that. Grownups have gone ahead and answered the question: 'What shall I be?' They have tossed out all the whats that don't fit and have become just one ... But a kid is still becoming. And I, as a kid alone, was free to be just about anything ... : salamander finder, crawfish annoyer, flat-stone creek skipper, cedar chest smeller, railroad car counter, tin can stomper, milkweed blower, mulberry picker, snowball smoother, paper bag popper, steel rail walker, box turtle toucher, dark-sky watcher, best-part saver. They didn't last long, these careers of mine ... But while they employed me, I gave them an honest minute's work and was paid in the satisfactions of curiousity met and a job well done." - Jerry Spinelli in KNOTS IN MY YO-YO STRING
When compared to the several coming-of-age memoirs that I've read - Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood by Susan Allen Toth, Sleeping Arrangements by Laura Shaine Cunningham, When All the World Was Young: A Memoir by Barbara Holland, WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR: A MEMOIR by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson come immediately to mind because of their excellence - KNOTS IN MY YO-YO STRING is, at 148 pages, relatively brief. But, it's packed with good stuff for anyone fondly remembering growing up in the 40s and 50s of the last century. When did we get old?
Spinelli was born in Norristown, PA in 1941, and grew up there. His story spans the period from about 1945 to 1957. His memories encompass pretty much what any other American of a middle class upbringing will remember from that time. Perhaps only the place - urban vs. rural, one region vs. another - will lead to variations, but the specifics are, not surprisingly, universal: the grandparents' home, elementary school, spelling bees, sports, first crush, first kiss, best friends, pets, running amok to explore and play in one's extended neighborhood, trains passing by on the local track, siblings, the neighborhood stores, etc. One chapter refers to the notes he received (and saved over the decades) from his first real crush, Judy Pierson. Now, I don't think most guys would admit to that; I'm impressed.
KNOTS IN MY YO-YO STRING is sprinkled with family snaps of the period. One is of his parents happily posing at the beach 6 months before his birth. How many of us ever stop to consider that our own parents were once young, in love, and with the whole world at their feet?
Some of Jerry's recollections are positively poignant, as when he recalls how, when he began to write this autobiography, he asked his younger brother, Bill, to contribute any memories he had of their childhood relationship.
"Several weeks later he handed me a list of memorable events. I read it over. I was stunned: I hardly recalled any of them ... He especially remembers one day when I propped him on the bar of my Roadmaster and gave him a lift ... He remembers feeling proud and special. Most of all he remembers feeling safe, his brother's breath in his ear, his brother's arms joining the handlebars in a protective embrace ... I have decided that I like Bill's memories of us better than my own ... Maybe if I keep picturing this memory of Bill's and feeling it for a long-enough time, it will begin to fool me into thinking it is my own."
We can never go home again, but writing such as Spinelli's can perhaps take us part of the way.