The Beat on Ruby’s Street: review

Ruby Street 250I devoured this book in a day. It hooked me completely. Swept me back to 1950s’ New York, the Beat community. Through Ruby, I got to meet Jack Kerouac! I think I was almost as awed as she was.

This is a really intelligent, carefully conceived middle grade book with a lot of warmth, wit and soul. The heroine is straddling the line between naive youngster and eyes-wide-open pre-teen, and the challenge she faces in crossing this line is beautifully handled by the author. I really liked Ruby: gutsy and precocious and fierce and curious and vulnerable. She is absolutely believable as a child who’s grown up in a community of rule breakers and free thinkers and daring creatives.

I loved that the book thrums with poetry, especially in the narrator voice. Ruby is a born poet, and that comes through line by line as she describes the world as she sees it. Her father is Gary Daddy-O, her mother Nell-Mom, who ‘has long curly hair from Wiscosin and the rest of her is from Wisconsin too’.

I didn’t love the adult characters in the book (other than Jack, of course!). In fact, I found it quite difficult to read descriptions of Ruby’s parents, who aren’t as together as they should be when it comes to parenting. Ruby sees them through rose-tinted spectacles; I saw them very differently. I wondered, as I read, whether the target middle-grade reader would naturally follow Ruby’s lead rather than understanding that her parents were making mistakes; I wondered whether some of the issues touched upon (sensitively, it must be said) are a little grown up for the middle-grade level.

What really sets this book apart is how it educates the reader about the Beat Generation. An example: when Ruby is incarcerated (so it feels to her) in a children’s home after a social worker discovers how she is being brought up by her parents, her response is to embrace the spirit of the Beats and, inspired by Ghandi, about whom she has read, go on a hunger strike. Ghandi? Hunger strike? In a children’s book? The Beat on Ruby’s Street isn’t just a story conceived to entertain kids; it’s a story to make kids think and give them a glimpse of the Beat Generation.

As I read, I did question at times whether the author’s eagerness to educate may put off a middle-grade reader. Is the ‘here is the takeaway message’ ending a little too didactic? Will terminology explanations in the story, albeit smoothly handled, signal ‘this is a lesson’ and turn away a reader seeking fun, adventure and escapism?

I really hope not, because I think The Beat on Ruby’s Street is well worth reading. It’s a book I’ll be keeping to give to my daughter when she’s older. In the meantime, I hope to read plenty more from Jenna Zark.

* My rating: Four and a half stars *

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.


Book details

Author: Jenna Zark

Genre: Children’s – middle grade

Synopsis:

The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.

It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home. As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.

Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

Publisher: Dragon Moon Press

Publication date: 1 June 2016

Length: 198 pages

Available from: Amazon