Lunch-Box Dream (review)
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Reviewed by
Abbott, Tony. Lunch-Box Dream. Foster/Farrar, 2011. [192p]. ISBN 978-0-374-34673-7 $16.99 Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 5-8.

The only people of color that Bobby has seen in his 1959 Ohio town are the garbage collectors, whom he and his older brother, Ricky, refer to as "chocolate men" and frighten themselves into fleeing. When their mother abruptly announces that they will be driving their grandmother down to Florida and that they'll stop at a number of Civil War battlefields along the way, Ricky is ecstatic; he knows everything there is to know about the war, and viewing the sites where his Union heroes fought for their nation's honor is a dream come true. As they make their way south, though, it's Bobby who approaches the scenes with empathetic imagination, sensing the horror of bloodshed and suffering, while Ricky proves to be little more than a detached encyclopedia of trivia. Meanwhile, another tale concurrently unfolds regarding the African-American Thomas family, as nine-year-old Jacob Thomas, an Atlanta native, visits relatives out in the country. In a plot twist reminiscent of the Emmett Till tragedy, the young boy accustomed to more permissive urban behavior makes some ill-advised remarks about white residents; when he goes missing, his relatives fear the worst and his Atlanta clan rushes to join the search. The stories intersect aboard a bus, where Bobby witnesses the desperation of the frantic Thomas family as they contend with the Jim Crow policies that impede their travel, and although he cannot know (as readers do) the nature of their domestic problem, he revises his view of "chocolate men" as he observes their spiritual strength and family solidarity. This is an oddly paced offering, with the strong momentum established by the first-person narration and tense trajectory of the Thomas family story somewhat hobbled by the slower, more contemplative chapters that treat Bobby's tale in a coolly distanced third-person narration. Moreover, the backstory to Bobby's trip, which involves an ongoing altercation between his parents, is left disturbingly unresolved. [End Page 508] Nonetheless, this tale, based in part on Abbott's memories of a childhood road trip, could fuel avid classroom discussion or quiet personal reflection.

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