Wednesday, May 5, 2010

But I'll Be Back Again by Cynthia Rylant

In an autobiographical account, author Cynthia Rylant describes vivid memories of her childhood and early adolescent years. The story starts out as Rylant explains how her parents separated when she was only four, and how she moved in with her grandparents. Her father was an alcoholic, and her mother left him due to his addiction. Rylant's mother, who wrote to her regularly, went away to nursing school where she stayed away for nearly four years. Rylant recalls the time spent with her grandparents as "good ones, and while I waited for my father and mother to come back, I had big stacks of pancakes and hot cocoa, hound dogs and chickens, teaberry leaves and honeysuckle, and aunts and cousins to sleep with at night and hug until someone could retunr for me." As Rylant reflects on her past, she also explains how her experiences lead her to becoming a writer. "Writing stories has given me the power to change things I could not change as a child. I can make fathers stop drinking. I can make mothers stay."

At the age of eight, Rylant and her mother lived in Beaver, WV, where she spends most of her years growing up from a young girl to a teenager. Her memories include learning about kissing, in which she describes her first kiss in spin-the-bottle, her changes in appearance leading up to the moment of when her mom finally decides to let her shave her legs and underarms, and her infatuations with The Beatles and Bobby Kennedy. Readers can certainly see that Rylant is still deeply moved by the lyrics of the Beatles as she uses verses from various songs to separate the sections of her story.

In reading this autobiography, it was confirming to me as I've read many of Rylant's stories to find that her experiences growing up truly did find a way into her books. Rylant's first book, When I Was Young in the Mountains was written to thank her grandparents for the time she spent with them in her early years. Her references to religion and her analysis in "figuring out God" is conveyed in Waiting to Waltz as well as in A Blue-Eyed Daisy and A Fine White Dust. Harold, her childhood boyfriend, is somewhat thanked in the "kissing chapter" of A Blue-Eyed Daisy. Although it is not mentioned in the book, there are many memories of her time living in Beaver that are captured in her poetry collection, Waiting to Waltz, as well.

Rylant's ability as a writer to hook readers is done so through her conversational voice. Readers are able to see her as a person, who experienced many ups and downs through her childhood. While reflecting on these experiences, readers can gain an understanding that all of her stories involve a specific purpose, and a piece of her is linked into each of her books. "I would finish out my childhood forgetting who I really was and what I really thought, and I would listen to other people and repeat their ideas instead of finding my own. That was the curse. The gift was that I would be willing to try to write books when I grew up."

Rylant's final Beatles verse at the culmination of her book from the song, In My Life, by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, perfectly suits the ending:

All these places had their moments,
With loves and friends
I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living,
In my life, I've loved them all.

While she was not able to say her goodbyes to her father, she was able to keep his memory and spirit living on for years to come. "But my father wrote a fine, fine, article, full of life and color and intelligence, and as I read it, I realized that his voice sounded like mine. And that he had not completely left this world becuse the sound of him was still alive in over twenty children's books written by the daughter he left behind."

As Rylant's life incoporated times of happiness, tragedy, and loss - she's discovered how to make a life filled with peacefulness and love. While going through two divorces, she notes that through having a son of her own, she would like for him to have an easier childhood than her own. "But every child will have his heartaches. I just hope that along with these each child will have a hero, and music, and at least one kiss he will never forget."

Before reading But I'll Be Back Again, I had a true admiration for Rylant as a writer. After reading her autobiography and getting to the heart of her struggles, I have a newfound appreciation and admiration for her as a woman and what she went through and overcame to become a successful writer. Her stories involve such emotion that capture the hearts of her audience, while sending the message to readers that without the moments of heartache and pain, you cannot fully appreciate the moments in life that bring you true happiness. And I am a firm believer in just that.

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