Thursday, April 8, 2010

Divorce from the child's point of view

42 Miles, by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, is the story of Ellen/Joey/JoEllen. At twelve years old, the only life she has ever really known consists of shuttling between her mom's house during the week and her dad's house on the weekends. She's had big changes in her life in the last year: her grandfather died, her grandmother moved to Florida, her dad moved from his old house just four blocks away to his parents' old farmhouse in the country, she has started middle school, she has had to begin wearing glasses. Her story, told in free-verse, highlights the differences of her split lives. Her parents named her after themselves, Joseph and Eleanor, but have never agreed what to call her. Her mother calls her Ellen, her dad calls her Joey. Ellen lives in the city, going to school, playing the saxophone, listening to street music, working in the second-hand shop owned by her best friend's mother. Joey lives in the country, wandering the woods with her cousin, going to church with her father's family, listening to bluegrass, mucking out stables.

Just before her thirteenth birthday, she decides that she will do her best to combine her two lives. She insists on having one birthday party instead of two. She makes the decision to be called JoEllen by everyone. She invites her city friends to sleepover in the country and invites her cousin to visit her in the city. She cuts her long hair and donates it for cancer patients. She even stands up to the school bully.

I enjoyed this peek into the life of a child of divorce. JoEllen doesn't seem whiny about her separate lives, merely a bit frustrated and uncertain. The catalyst for change comes about in the form of a Language Arts assignment--an autobiography project.

But I don't know which life to describe,
Joey's or Ellen's,
and it's not as if Mom and Dad
share stories of my childhood
over the birthday candles each spring
or even
inhale the same air
if they can avoid it.

This assignment
makes running the seven-minute mile
in gym class
seem painless by comparison.
As she researches, though, she realizes:
...they don't see in me
the mirror image of their mistakes--
or even what they hated in each other--
but the best that
each of them had to offer.

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