Allison's Book Bag

Andy Reviews The Road to Paris

Posted on: April 21, 2012

Cover of "The Road to Paris (Coretta Scot...

Cover via Amazon

Welcome to the fourth installment of Andy’s Sack o’ Books.

The Road to Paris By Nikki Grimes

Paris Richmond is trapped by love. She loves her foster family, who has taught her what a family should be. She loves her brother, who has lived in a group home since he was deemed “incorrigible” for stealing from a previous foster family. She loves – and hates –  her alcoholic mother, whose weakness and selfishness has sabotaged her life.

Paris’ happy life with her new family is shattered by a phone call from her mother, who wants her back. The rest of the story is about how Paris came to live with, and love, her new family. It is also about her conflicted heart. She wants to love her mother. She wants to completely belong to a family. She wants to be with her brother again. But she also wants to remain with the family that loves her.

That’s a lot to put on an eight-year-old girl.

The Road to Paris gets many things right. In some cases, I know with certainty that it does. In other cases, it convinces me that it does even though I have no way of knowing – it sounds right; it fits with what I think I know of human nature.

The author creates a very real and perfect conflict for Paris. For the most part, there are no villains in this story. Paris’ mother has her problems; often Paris hates her, but she also wants to love her and she wants her family to be whole again. When Paris goes to visit her halfway through the book, we find out that Viola is not a monster and that a spark of love has survived the years of hurt. The foster family too is not composed of monsters. How many stories have we seen and heard about kids who bounce from once horrific foster family to another? Paris and her brother have certainly bounced around, but the book is not about those families; it is about the one family that turned out to be the right family.

Nikki Grimes is interested in real life and real feelings, not melodrama. We’ve all seen television shows and movies, and read books, where a character suddenly and without warning has an extreme reaction to something seemingly insignificant. This leads to the realization that the character has A Secret, which of course leads to the inevitable Discovery or Disclosure of The Secret. And of course that Disclosure or Discovery is drawn out as long as possible, for maximum emotional impact. Because that’s drama and drama is good. Right? In The Road to Paris, Paris does in fact have the occasional “freak out” that, to those around her, must seem unwarranted. For instance, there is an early meal at the Lincoln house where Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln each decide to have a can of beer. Why should this send Paris running to the bathroom to throw up, and why does she then seclude herself in her bedroom for the rest of the evening? And why is she surprised the next morning that normal life has continued uninterrupted? The Lincolns don’t know, and never know. Or do they? It doesn’t matter.

At another point in the story, Paris has an unfortunate reaction to sleeping in a completely dark bedroom. And again, this Secret is not kept through the entire book. In fact, Paris immediately spills the beans to one of her new brothers, and the situation is quickly and perfectly resolved.

What I really appreciate about Nikki Grimes’ writing is that she “gets” that many of us have hot button issues, and that we usually don’t take the time to explain our inner workings to everyone we meet. And so we often have reactions that take others by surprise and must make us seem somewhat crazy. However, Grimes does not use this for cheap drama. And the way that she avoids going for cheap drama is that while the Lincolns and others may not understand what sets Paris off, we do. Because while Paris has her secrets, they are not kept secret from the readers. And this is as it should be – the story is told from Paris’ point of view, and so to share some of her thoughts with us but not others would be, well, cheap.

Another aspect of this that Grimes gets right is that Paris’ reactions always fit the circumstances. We understand why she reacts the way she does to the beer. It fits. And we understand why she reacts the way she does to the pitch black bedroom. There is also a situation involving a perceived betrayal by her best friend. Readers may not agree that Paris has been betrayed, but they can certainly understand why she would be upset and why she would never want to go that girl’s house again. We even understand why she would build a wall around herself when another girl tries to be her friend.

 The Road to Paris is a very realistic depiction of a very real situation for many kids. And while alcoholism and foster care are not happy topics, this is not a depressing book. In a way, it is the story of a girl who, after years of pain, finds herself with too much love.

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