I grew up in New England the 1950s and ‘60s, and Bette Stevens has written a coming of age novel about a life I wouldn’t recognize. Call me lucky. Shawn Daniels, the oldest of several children, lives in poverty. His father is the town drunk and beats his mother, who struggles to keep the family together in an unfinished, tar papered house with no indoor plumbing, running water, and heat. They have a TV but that’s for the enjoyment of Dad. Shawn and his brother Willie do all his chores: cutting and stacking firewood, hauling water into the house, and helping mind their two younger sisters. Despite the curtailment of a real childhood, the brothers still find a way to have adventures in small pockets of time, fishing for one, with a home-made pole and a safety pin for a hook. Dog bone soup, made from the marrow in left over bones, is what the family eats when there is nothing else.
The author has written beautifully and lovingly of the daily joys, despairs and tribulations of growing up poor in a family of four children with an abusive father. She populates Shawn’s world with colorful and unforgettable characters: his long-suffering, wise and patient mother, the highly intelligent Mrs. Ashley, for whom Shawn works for a while, Uncle Hiram who aids and abets their father, Mr. Stark of Stark’s General Store, as well as Shawn’s neighbors and schoolmates. The reader is drawn into and becomes a part of Shawn’s family life, rooting for him to break away and make a life for himself.
Dog Bone Soup is a gem of a book, fast paced, entertaining, and moving. I loved it and devoured it in two sittings (I had to stop to eat!). Bette Stevens is a talented storyteller and I hope we will have another book from her soon.
Excerpt from Dog Bone Soup by Bette A. Stevens
Chapter 15: The 1956 Buick
Soon as I put her in park, Willie jumped out of the car and flew around to hop in the driver’s seat. I’d already let him back in and out of the door yard a few times.
By the time Willie cruised around the edge of the field four or five times, I was getting bored.
“Hey, let’s try to turn some donuts out here. Not enough room in the yard. Besides, Mum’d have a fit if she caught us doin’ something like that with Annie and Molly around.
“Let’s switch seats and I’ll show you what I’m talkin’ about.”
I jumped behind the wheel and headed straight for the middle of field, floored the pedal and held the wheels to the right as far as they’d go. The Buick was smokin’ and field grass was flyin’. I straightened the wheels, rolled to a new spot and floored it again. Then I let Willie take his turn. By the time we headed back up the road, we’d made more donuts in that field than Mum could fry up at one time in her twelve-inch cast iron skillet.
“About time you boys got home,” Mum shook her head as we walked through the door without a fish in hand.
Monday at work, the guys were all talking about a big police investigation going on over at Brown’s farm out on the Walker Road.
“Some smart-ass kids been out there tearing up Troy Brown’s hay field. Brown’s madder than a bullfrog in a brush fire, and I don’t blame him. Says if he catches the culprits he’s gettin’ the judge to haul ’em off to the jug.”
I could feel the heat flashin’ across my face. Didn’t dare look anywhere that day, except at the work tables and the hides that I tossed on ’em.
Never said a word to anyone but Willie about what I heard at the tannery and I was darned lucky that we didn’t get caught. From then on we’d be sticking to open roads and fishin’ spots.
About the author:
Bette A. Stevens is retired teacher, wife, mother of two and grandmother of five. She lives in Central Maine with her husband on their 37-acre farmstead. I recently met her when I was vacationing in Maine (she drove two hours to meet me!) and it is clear how much she enjoys writing, reading, gardening, and the beauty of nature. She advocates for children, childhood literacy and especially nice for me and my background, for monarch butterflies, an endangered species. She has published a children’s activity book, The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles, Too! And her second children’s book, Amazing Matilda, won a 2013 Purple Dragonfly Book Award (Honorable Mention for Excellence in Children’s Literature – Ages 6 and older category) and also placed #9 on The 2013 Gittle List for Self-published Children’s Picture Books. In 2013, the author published her first book for the YA/Adult audience: Pure Trash: The story, a short story of a boy growing up in rural New England and prequel to Dog Bone Soup.
Read Chapter 1 of DOG BONE SOUP at http://4writersandreaders.com/dog-bone-soup-chapter-1/
Find out more about Bette A. Stevens and her books at http://viewauthor.at/BetteAStevens
You can find Dog Bone Soup on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dog-Bone-Soup-Boomers-Journey/dp/150314965X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441806570&sr=1-1&keywords=Dog+Bone+Soup
Bette’s blog is http://4writersandreaders.com/
Stay tuned for an interview with Bette in the next post.