Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer

There were rumors about Arthur “Boo” Radley. Stories about why he went to jail and to why he never came out of his house except at night. One day, Scout, Jem, and Dill all decided to try and get Boo Radley to show himself. They wanted to see him. Boo wouldn’t come out, but he left different objects in the notch of a tree for the three kids to find. Before the kids could give Boo a thank you note, the notch in the tree was cemented over. It seemed that someone didn’t want them to meet Mr. Boo Radley.

The story that involves Boo Radley is from one of my favorite books when I was in 7th grade (Do you know the title?). Harper Lee’s character named Boo Radley kept coming to mind as I read another book that also has a major character that no one gets to see.

In, The Mailbox, by Audrey Shafer, Twelve-year-old Gable Culligan Pace has lived with his uncle Vernon in his simple home cradled within a valley west of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, north of Roanoke County. We find that Gable, or Gabe, has lived with his uncle for nearly two years. Before that, Gabe was shuffled between many different foster homes ever since he was two years old- when his mother disappeared. Gabe never knew his father. Social services tried to find Gabe’s only living relative, his uncle Vernon, but he wasn’t an easy man to find.

Uncle Vernon might as well have been a ghost to his neighbors. He lived a life of a recluse, away from civilization as much as he could. In some ways the mailbox by the dirt road was the only connection Uncle Vernon had with the outside world.

You might think that Uncle Vernon is the one that reminds me of Boo Radley, but he can’t be. He’s dead.

After his first day of school, Gabe discovers Uncle Vernon laying “motionless on the floor, flat on his back.” “Gabe stood by his uncle’s work boots and softly called his name. Vernon, a veteran, had had his left leg amputated below the knee during his final tour in Vietnam, thirty-five years before. Gabe saw that the fake foot wasn’t angled quite right to the rest of his uncle’s body.” Uncle Vernon’s skin was cold to the touch.

You can imagine the terror, fear and anguish Gabe experienced in that moment. Yet, he didn’t call for help. Gabe spent hours crying and wondering what to do. That night Gabe kind of half dozed with his head buried into the kitchen table. When it turned daylight he noticed a fly on his uncle’s cheek and “Gabe’s eyes widened in terror as the fly walked into his uncle’s nostril. Gabe wanted to scream…” Somehow Gabe collected himself and covered his uncle with a blanket, grabbed his backpack and closed the door as he “headed off to his second day of sixth grade.”

When Gabe returned home from school he hesitated by the mailbox, probably wondering what in the world he was going to do and if he could even go through the front door again. Then Gabe did something unexpected. He opened the mailbox. Uncle Vernon was the only one that was allowed to open the mailbox. Inside was a green envelope addressed to Mr. G. C. P. Inside was a note that said:

“I have a secret.”

“Don’t be afraid.”

Gabe was even more afraid. There wasn’t anyone around to help him. So, he stepped into the house and put down his backpack, turned on every light. “His uncle’s body, leg prosthesis and all, was gone.”

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