I didn’t realize this when I purchased it, but apparently Dear Austin is a sequel to a book called Dear Levi. Each book is a series of letters written by two brothers, Levi and Austin. I hope I have the opportunity to read Dear Levi soon, considering how much I enjoyed reading Dear Austin.
Life is carrying on just about normal for Levi and his two sidekicks, Jupiter and Possum. Between maintaining the honor of their club and trying to stay out of scrapes, they stay pretty busy. Especially when defending the honor of the club demands getting into scrapes…
But all is going humdrum and well until suddenly Jupiter’s little sister, Darcy disappears. Because Darcy is black, the boys are pretty sure that she’s been kidnapped and will be sold south unless they intervene. So, on one dark night, Austin and Jupiter set out for the deep South.
Will Austin and Jupiter be able to recover Darcy? Or will they be captured and Jupiter himself sold?
Elvira Woodruff uses a gentle but uproarious humor in this work. Here, Levi has become entangled in dancing classes. In preparation, his aunt has smoothed down his hair with lard.
I gritted my teeth, hiccupped, and took Margaret’s stinky hand. While Mrs. Simpson was explaining about “twirling your partners,” a big bottle fly flew in from the window and buzzed our heads. My hair was so thick with lard, didn’t that fly dive down and land right on the top of my head! To make things worse, it got stuck in the lard and couldn’t take off.
Of course Lester, being the “perfect little gentleman,” couldn’t let this go unnoticed and called to Tessa Buckman to “take a look at Levi the Fly Catcher.” Even Henry was giggling as he played.
I shot Lester a dirty look, and as I twirled Margaret in a turnabout, I reached with my free had and grabbed for the fly, pulling it off my head. Of course I knew better than to wipe it and the glob of lard from my fingers on my britches, so I reached over and used the back of Margaret’s dress as she spun around. This caused a loud shriek from Mrs. Simpson. How’d I know that she’d be looking just then?’ [pg. 27-28]
Earlier, Miss Amelia had tried to rally his spirits in regard to the classes.
“This will be your moment,” she declared. “Your moment to shine.”
“If I have to go through all this pain to have one shining moment,” I told her, “I’d as soon keep my moments on the dull side.” [pg. 25]
This entry from May 26, 1853 shows how sometimes ‘responsibility’ may be used as an excuse for mischief…
I have survived my latest punishment, but only barely. I’ll relate the grim details for you, but first let me explain how it all came about.
It began with my spying that light back of Preacher Tully’s smokehouse on Friday night and deciding to lower myself out of my bedroom window.
Now, I know what you might be thinking, Austin, but I can honestly say that my sneaking out of the house had nothing to do with wildness and everything to do with responsibility. For it’s part of our club’s creed that if something suspicious is going on, it’s up to the club to investigate it. What with the robbery at Miller’s store and a thief full of warts on the loose, I just had to do the responsible thing and lead the investigation. [pg. 20]
Later, Levi and Possom try to find proofs of the Underground Railway.
All the way home Possum and I kept our eyes on the ground, wondering about this Underground Railroad. Possum even tried putting his ear to the dirt, hoping to hear the iron horse’s engine, but he couldn’t hear anything excepting dirt, which as you know is pretty quiet. [pg. 47]
There were numerous small incidents that need to be addressed, but probably the largest thing I will be commenting on was the relationship between Levi and Miss Amelia. So far as I could tell, Miss Amelia is no relative of Levi’s, but she took him in when his father and brother traveled west. On one page, Levi comments,
“So, of course I had to promise [to behave], ‘cause even though Miss Amelia ain’t really our ma, she fusses over me the same as any ma would.” [pg. 25]
And their relationship is amiable – he gets into scrapes, she gives him punishments, and they get along alright. But it is obvious that Levi’s boisterous spirits are too much for Miss Amelia to handle, and he often dives into things without stopping to ask for permission and does not tell her of them afterwards (claiming that he doesn’t want to make her heart palpitate, as she says it does whenever he misbehaves). Their relationship is okay, but it is not as respectful on Levi’s part as I thought it could be.
On one occasion, Miss Amelia tells Levi,
“Sometimes,” she said, “a body has to follow the laws of their heart. If in your heart you know a law to be bad and to cause suffering, then you must follow the course of good, even if it goes against the law of the land.” [pg. 49]
While I absolutely agree with Miss Amelia that some laws are evil and should be disobeyed, the standard for judging the moral righteousness of a law should not be our own heart, but what the Scriptures teach.
On one occasion, Darcy, the little black girl, accidentally angers Mrs. Simpson. Mrs. Simpson rails against Darcy saying
“Why, I can’t have a pack of pickaninnies hanging around, or proper folks wouldn’t let their children come for lessons. So don’t let me find you under my windows again. You keep to yourself and your kind away from decent folks, or you’ll find yourself singing on a cotton field under the shadow of a cat-o’-nine-tails, where you belong…” [pg. 61]
Levi feels that he is responsible for Darcy’s kidnapping, so when Jupiter expresses his plan to recapture Darcy, Levi insists on going along. Neither of them consult with adults; they simply take off. Their actions get them into much danger and cause others to be seriously inconvenienced.
While they are on their trip, Levi entertains Jupiter by telling him ghost stories.
“I knew it was a bad idea as soon as I started, but I found myself telling ghost stories around the fire a few nights back. I told my favorite one about old Bloody Head, and then Jupiter clicked his teeth to let me know that he wanted to hear the one about old Rattle Bones. When the trees creaked in the wind over our heads, we knew it weren’t really the trees at all. We knew it was old Rattle Bones come looking for to pick our bones clean.
And when we heard some critter in the brush, we were certain it was old Bloody Head come to fetch our heads for his collection! We’ve been sleeping with our shoes on ever since and doing a powerful lot of praying.” [pg. 99]
No other mention is made of ghosts.
Jupiter sticks a feather behind his ear for luck early on in the story. Later, Levi does the same as a way to remember Jupiter.
Levi says that he wished he had the talent to laugh without making a sound, “especially in church, where laughing is almost a sin.” [pg. 17]
‘Durned’ is used twice.
Conclusion. A worthwhile story. Dear Austin is a touching reminder of the importance of family and friendship in the midst of difficult times.
(I have now read and reviewed Dear Levi!)
Review © 2012 Laura Verret