Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#BookReview: Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid - Varian Johnson

Had I not been desperate for something to listen to on a recent road trip, I probably would have never picked up this book.  That's not to say that anything was too terribly wrong with it, it just trended on the YA side and that's not really my thing.  But given the choice between listening to this and the same 10 songs over and over again on satellite radio, I went with this.

Red Polka Dot is the story of Maxine, a recent high school graduate, who learns that the father she always thought was dead is, in fact, alive and well and living in Oklahoma.  Determined to meet him, she sets off on her own from South Carolina, only to have car problems.  Her best friend Deke comes to her rescue and the two make their way to Oklahoma where Maxine discovers that not only is her father Jack alive, he's white.

This first effort from Varian Johnson was crammed with entirely too many messages for such a short book.  There was Maxine's discovery that she was biracial and how it affected her outlook after believing that she was black for 18 years. In addition, she had to deal with how others around her reacted to her as a result.   There was also a strong Christian lit element with Deke and Jack both talking about their beliefs repeatedly and trying to convince Maxine to come back to church.  And then there was the problem of defining her friendship with Deke.  In the midst of this, she had to find time to create and define a relationship with her newly discovered father.  And like a soap opera, the author managed to wrap all of these issues up with a nice neat bow within a week.  While this may have played out well for a younger reader, it was too idealistic for a cynical older reader like me.

What did you like about this book?
It had good messages, there were just too many of them to give any one proper attention and fleshing out.

What didn't you like about this book?
The narrator of the audio book has the same last name of the author.  While Johnson is a common last name, I couldn't help but wonder if she was related to him.  That could be the only plausible reason for using her as the narrator.  I picked up a distinct Caribbean lilt in her voice, which was distracting since the character was supposed to be from South Carolina.  Another problem was that the narrator was only capable of doing three voices even though she gave voice to every character in the book.  As a result, all of the male characters, with the exception of Deke, sounded like an old white man sitting on his porch holding a shotgun and all of the female characters, with the exception of Maxine, sounded like Florence Jean Castleberry (that's Flo for those that remember the TV show, Alice).  It may have been more economically feasible for the author to use a relative to narrate, but the voices she used were annoying and made listening to the book almost unbearable.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Pick a theme and stick with it.

Listening time: 5 hours, 50 minutes
Published November 2005

Theme: At Seventeen by Janis Ian

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