Clyde Robert Bulla has written dozens of children’s books, stories as well as biographies.
Sarah Ida didn’t want to come to Palmville to live with her aunt. But then, she didn’t really want to stay with her parents. She doesn’t want anything or anyone except her freedom; her right to wear what she wants, do what she wants, and be friends with who she wants. But it seems like all of the adults in her world are determined to keep these things from her.
And now, Aunt Claudia is refusing to give her any money. Wants to know what she’ll do with it. Bah! She’ll show her aunt. She’ll go and get a job and then Aunt Claudia will be sorry and give her the money. So she finds a job at Al’s Shoeshine Corner, shining shoes. But when she returns home that night, Aunt Claudia offers no resistance to Sarah Ida’s plans, actually says it may be a good idea!
Sarah Ida doesn’t quite know what to do with this response. Should she keep working or should she quit? Maybe it would be interesting to work with Al, to see all of the different people, to earn money….
Relationships are complex in Sarah Ida’s world. In fact, dysfunctionality rules. Although Sarah Ida lives with her aunt during the entirety of the story, the circumstances of the story and Sarah Ida’s responses to them are all directed by her relationship – or lack of relationship – with her parents. Her parents are both very busy – too busy to spend really any time with Sarah Ida. Here is her version of the story.
“Well-” Sarah Ida began. “For a long time nobody cared what I did. Nobody paid any attention. Then all at once everything changed. Mother asked a million questions about everything I did. And my clothes weren’t right, and my friends weren’t right. I couldn’t do this – I couldn’t do that.” [pg. 6]
Sarah Ida’s responded to this hitherto unprecedented and critical attention by hardening her heart and rebelling, which is an understandable though inexcusable response. When someone who has no meaningful part in your life begins suddenly to micro-manage your life, it is, without a doubt, frustrating. But just because her parents had behaved wrongly gives Sarah Ida no excuse to respond with bad behavior herself.
When Sarah Ida arrives in Palmville, Sarah Ida is hurt but resolute, prickly and tough. She refuses to soften. Her aunt can do nothing to change her or control her. After being caught finagling money from a young girl, Sarah Ida decides to get a job. She finds one with Al, and theirs is the only real relationship in the book. He lets her do her own thing, mostly, except where business is concerned. Then he corrects her manners.
In the end, Sarah Ida must leave Palmville and return to her parents. At first, Sarah Ida point-blank refuses to go, but in the end relents. She derives comfort from her relationship with the Al and thinks she’s “ready” to see her parents again.
We never know whether she is reconciled to her parents. We don’t really know how she feels towards them at the end of the story. Just that she’s leaving the life she’s come to love to go back to her parents because they think they need her. We have no reason to believe that their difficulties have actually been resolved. Or that their relationships will progress. There is no resolution.
Sarah Ida excuses a friend’s theft by saying that “she wasn’t stealing. She was just trying to see if she could get it out of the store. It was like – it was like a game.” [pg. 7]
Conclusion. I did not find Shoeshine Girl to be what I would call ‘exemplary reading’ for children because it will only raise doubts in their minds concerning their relationship with their parents or reassure and foster any resentment they might already have.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret