Michelle Isenhoff

On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer, 1986, Book Review

on my honorJoel didn’t want to ride out to Starved Rock Bluffs, let alone climb them, but Tony wouldn’t leave him alone. He talked his dad into giving him permission, hoping the whole time that he wouldn’t succeed. But his dad said yes, and the boys set off on their bikes, and Tony stopped at the bridge over the river. Tony went into the river. And Tony never came out.
Guilt is eating Joel alive. When his parents–and when Tony’s parents–start asking questions, Joel avoids them. But he can still smell the stink of the river on his skin. He can still remember the dare he called out to Tony: “You’re the one who’s scared. I bet you wouldn’t even swim to that sandbar out there.”
On My Honor was recommended to me by a couple sixth grade girls, but I didn’t care for it, even though it won Newbery honors. The prose is beautiful, the thoughts deep, but it was too depressing for my tastes. The book is extremely short with a singular, gut-wrenching focus that, in my opinion, eclipses the story.
In the end, Joel’s dad tells him, “You can’t live your life by maybes,” which is pretty good advice. But his final words are downright hopeless. “I don’t suppose anybody knows what happens after. I believe there’s something about life that goes on. It seems too good to end in a river.”
How bleak! I don’t enjoy this sort of  melancholy, and I could certainly find a more comforting choice if it became necessary to broach this subject with my kids.

On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer, 1986, Book Review

7 thoughts on “On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer, 1986, Book Review

  1. Makes me think of “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson. In it, two children create a magical imaginary world together, until one of them drowns… In terms of discussing death with kids, I don’t know that any book is really adequate.
    Only life experience helps us deal with the subject of death, and we never truly deal with it in my opinion, just learn ways to live with what we know and what we can’t possibly know. I agree that anything intended as a prelude to that kind of talk should include some kind of catharsis and an uplifting message, however contrived, but I’m not sure the absence of one would ruin my own enjoyment of a book.

  2. Hi Darryl. Thanks for stopping by. You’re right; adults aren’t equipped to deal with death, let alone kids. Heaven forbid I ever need to broach the subject.
    I liked “Bridge to Terabithia” a whole lot more than this one, but that doesn’t rank among my favorites either. Life has enough sadness. I guess I don’t like to escape to a sad place, too.

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