Last week, my colleague, Carol Baldwin created a Facebook status that read "Spending the night in Zanesville, Ohio. For those of you who have read Allan Wolf's book, Zane's Trace you'll be interested to know that Zane's Trace was a real place and the Y Bridge truly does exist."
Carol tagged me because I'd recently read Zane's Trace, a contemporary story laced with history. Remembering that Carol had reviewed Zane's Trace on her blog, I clicked over to reread her thoughts and promptly asked permission to post them here. So here's her terrific review.
When Allan Wolf was thirteen, he lost a penny behind the baseboard in his bedroom. He grabbed a pencil and wrote, "Penny lost down here on the night of April 12, 1976 at 2 til 9 PM and 5 seconds by Allan Dean Wolf."
In some ways, that was the genesis of Zane's Trace, a poetic coming of age novel that combines elements of historical fiction, free verse, and fantasy.
Using a combination of powerful images, prose, real places, events and people, this book documents Zane Guesswind's journey as he wrestles with his painful past which includes his mother's suicide, an abusive grandfather, and his father's desertion. If that wasn't enough baggage for any teenager to carry around, Zane also has epilepsy.
Up until the story's opening Zane has dealt with his pain by writing on any non-conventional surface imaginable including his bedroom walls and ceiling. Translating his thoughts and feelings this way sometimes has a therapeutic effect on Zane:
Whatever it was, the simple act of writing
on my wall had strengthened me somehow. (p.9)
A red Sharpie made the men bleed.
And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.
The worse Mom got, the more I wrote.
The more the old man nagged her,
the more I wrote.
And the more empty spaces I filled,
the better I felt. (p. 12)
But, as a not untypical adolescent, it also gives him more power than he truly has. So, when his grandfather dies in his sleep, Zane thinks,
I did not kill him directly, yet I
was certainly the cause.
the Zane-atopia scene on my ceiling,
the flash of light at the top of Mount Guesswind
the heaven holding Mom, Stanley, Zach, me
I smudged the old man out
with a fat, black marker--king size.
Last night I erased the old man from the light. (p. 30)
This book is a quick read, but not a simple one. It is full of powerful metaphors and layers of images--even as the writing on Zane's walls and his thoughts are layered with meaning. The line, "One straight shot" is repeated over and over again with various meanings and nuances.
Zane's physical journey back to his mother's grave is also his emotional journey as he deals with his own deep grief. In the end, Wolff brings together the disparate elements of this poignant story as Zane reconciles the branches of his family tree. After his grandfather's funeral Zane says:
And all of us there--living or dead, crazy or sane,
friend or foe, black or white, family or stranger--
we all crowd around and add our own names
to the twisted, crazy-beautiful family branches. (p.177)