Reviewed by Michele Heather Pollock
Some folks say there are only a handful of stories in the world that get retold again and again in different guises. If that is so, then surely the coming-of-age story would be one of the most frequent: child meets trouble of some sort; child deals with the trouble and, in the process, grows up. What can make these stories interesting, what can keep us reading them again and again, is the nature and character of the child, and the nature and character of the trouble he or she runs into.
In With a Hammer for My Heart, that child is Lawanda, fifteen years old, growing up in a poor community in Kentucky. She wants to go to college, so she gets a job selling magazines. Her sales lead her up “the hill” to where Garland, an old WWII veteran lives in two old school buses. Garland is ostracized by the community because he drinks too much, and because he’d driven away his wife and kids. But Lawanda finds him and his bus, filled with books and old maps, interesting, and she finds herself befriending the old man.
The trouble comes in when the local community learns about Lawanda and Garland’s friendship, which they neither understand nor want to tolerate. A rumor leads to an arrest, and Lawanda finds herself on a bus, headed across the state alone, looking for the one person she thinks can help her sort out the situation.
This is Lyon’s first novel, though she has written more than 30 books for children and adults. It is a lovely book, full of great characters who each, while acting in what they believe is the best interest of Lawanda, alternately help and thwart her efforts to make the world right again. The cover is gorgeous, and while the typeface used in this paperback edition is distracting and odd, the story is capable of rising above that distraction to discuss ideas of hurt and healing, and the responsibilities we all have to the people we know and love.
Armchair Interviews says: Strong first novel from an established children’s author.
Author’s Web site: http://www.GeorgeEllaLyon.com