Title: The Center of Everything
Author: Linda Urban
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Audience: Ages 9 and up
Summary: Ruby Pepperdine is waiting to read her winning essay at the end of the Bunning Day Parade, the parade that celebrates Cornelius Bunning, the sea captain who originated the doughnut hole. And while she waits she remembers. She remembers watching the stars with her grandmother, Gigi, on the flat roof of Pepperdine Motors and feeling that here was “the center of everything.” She remembers Gigi’s death and the lost opportunity to hear her last words. Her mother told her to leave her grandmother’s bed and she did what she was supposed to. She remembers her miserable verbal exchange with her best friend, Lucy, and her new friend, Nero. She remembers her wish, guaranteed because she threw a quarter through the donut held aloft by Cornelius Bunning’s statue in the park.
If she could only go back in time to Gigi’s bedside, if she could only unsay the things that she said to her friends. If only her wish will come true then things will be as they are supposed to be. But what if there’s no supposed to be?
Literary elements at work in the story: This is a small book literally (194 pp. 5”x 7 ¾”) with a modest plot: a twelve year old girl is trying to deal with grief and the author is making a statement about the importance of relationships. Ruby is an engaging protagonist-a middle-of-the-pack girl who always does what she is supposed to, a pragmatist who figures things out. It’s her story and her viewpoint but minor characters throughout the book tell events through their eyes. And the reader is invited to imagine herself as part of the concluding scenes. Urban has created a small town and its parade with humor and loving detail. And Ruby’s frantic search for signs that her wish will come true will be recognized by anyone who has ever made a wish. In a story where family is so important there’s a puzzling lack of communication and it’s a little bit hard to take Ruby’s grief seriously in a situation celebrating the creation of a donut hole. Not every child will be willing to stay with such a slow moving story.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Bunning, NH appears to be a typical, small New England town where “you can set up your seats for a parade, go off to get …a bag of donuts, and nobody will mess with them.” Families are important with many aunts, uncles and cousins. Names, casually mentioned, indicate different ethnic groups-The DeNiros, Mr. Okeda, Mr. Fisch, Mr. Imus. Lucy has dark skin and two dads. These last two facts are not essential to the story.
Theological Conversation Partners:.”The connections we make in the course of life-maybe that’s what heaven is.” These words from Fred Rogers set the stage for a book about the importance of relationships. Twelve is the developmental stage when youth are capable of theological thinking and Ruby is flirting with meaning and what lies behind meaning. Is there really a supposed to, an “ought” in the universe? Without it won’t there be chaos? And how does this ought relate to friendships? What is the purpose of death and loss? Is there a rational order in life? Ruby’s questions and feelings are an opportunity to join in her search for meaning. As an adult reader I felt some sadness that Ruby had nowhere to go but to fate, destiny, the universe, or Cornelius Bunning’s statue. Gigi’s last words were “Listen. It’s all coming together?” Listening seems to be the key to relationships; it’s certainly an action called for in the gospels. “Let anyone with ears, listen.” Jesus calls the crowds to hear his parables. The Psalms portray a God who listens and hears. (ex. 4:8; 5:3;31:22; 34:4.) Since the Christian faith is centered in a relationship with God who is Trinitarian, what the books says about relationships can provide food for thought.
Faith Talk Questions:
- One of the main characters in this book, Gigi, is dead but many facts are revealed about her life. What has she done? Why was she important to so many people?
- After Gigi’s death, Ruby figured out you were not supposed to be so sad. Why did she think this? How did she handle her grief?
- What belief does Ruby have about death, about what has happened to Gigi?
- Ruby keeps looking for signs that her wish will come true. What are some of them? Is this reasonable? Why would she do this?
- What effect did Nero’s color wheel have on Ruby? Why did this happen?
- Would you want Lucy to be your best friend? What qualities in Ruby and Lucy’s friendship made it strong?
- How did Ruby and her father help each other?
- Christians have an understanding of death based on the love of God and the resurrection of Jesus. How does it differ from Ruby’s?
- Did Ruby hear and understand Gigi’s last words? What did they mean? Is it possible to be friends without listening to each other?
- An important part of prayer is listening. How do we listen to God?
This review is written by Virginia Thomas.