Bette Stevens is probably best known for her highly successful children’s book, Amazing Matilda. Now she has dipped her toes into the deep waters of young adult literature with her new book, Pure Trash – The Story.
Having already read Bette’s ‘Amazing Matilda’, I was delighted to be asked to read this one as well. Though aimed at an older audience, it is still written in the same generous and caring tone. Set in the 1950’s, Pure Trash highlights the sense of social injustice doled out when two children are condemned and forever tainted because of their father’s alcoholism and the family’s unmitigated poverty.
Pure Trash is a short story focused on a day in the lives of two young boys, Shawn and Willie Daniels. They are extremely poor, have a drunken father, a long-suffering mother and live in a shack in 1950’s America; located near a small New England town in which bullying and prejudice is rife. They attend church every Sunday. This day (Saturday, and no school), having done their chores, is filled with gathering discarded empty bottles on their way into town, and collecting the returns money. The boys really look forward to this trip every week, as they are able to buy pop and sweets before returning home to fish with their father, who, by the time they get back, will have drunk enough beer to “catch his limit” and to, “’hold your (his) mouth just right’ or the fish wouldn’t bite”.
Despite the excitement of this weekly trip, Shawn is filled with dread at the thought of encountering the gossips, and other mean townsfolk, who call them names and laugh at them; all because of their poverty and their drunken parent.
On the way back from the trip, Willie falls off his bike and Shawn seeks help from someone he believes to be kind; someone who also attends the same church. But, he is surprised when he learns that cordially nodding to someone every Sunday in church is not the same as turning up on their doorstep and asking for help – at least not when your Shawn and Willie Daniels.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Told with great sensitivity, Ms. Stevens weaves a tale of intolerance and impassive bullying, the backlash of another’s alcoholism and the knock-on effects of abject poverty. The atmospheric descriptions set the scenes beautifully – I felt I was actually riding my own bike with the boys on their excursion. The whole timbre of the book, from the very first word, is that of compassion and understanding. I felt tinges of sadness, though. To the boys, this is all they know. They completely accept their father’s excessive drinking, and their mother’s frugality as she makes her house dresses out of “flowered chicken feed sacks”. There is no money to repair the house, but the boys’ father buys a brand new television set for himself, which sounds like an echo of so many households today. The boys do not envy others, instead they are grateful for what little they have. They find great joy in their natural surrounding; blue skies, hills and fields, and the simple things available to them. Such small treats as ice-cream and some pop are a thing pure delight.
This book is not just about poverty and making do, and being happy with what you have been given – albeit, through lack of knowledge. It is also about intimidation and small-mindedness, and the terrible indictment of the society that has risen from such behaviour, not just in the fifty’s, but of today as well. Such families do still exist and the intolerance continues as one generation begats the next and the tradition continues on both sides. Perhaps it is all unavoidable, but it is sad how innocent children are made to suffer for the mistakes of their parents.
A sensitive and touching tale which is well-written, absorbing and entertaining. Highly recommended. 5 stars
Where to buy Pure Trash
About the Author
Bette A. Stevens received her B.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Maine at Orono before embarking on graduate courses in Curriculum Studies at Chapman University in California. Stevens is a retired teacher and author of two children’s books: AMAZING MATILDA: A Monarch’s Tale, an award-winning picture book and The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!, a children’s activity book. Stevens and her husband live on a 37-acre farmstead in Central Maine. PURE TRASH is a short story for the YA/Adult audience and a prequel to her upcoming début novel.
Where to find Bette
Other Books by Bette A. Stevens
- ‘AMAZING MATILDA: A Monarch’s’ Tale Wins Purple Dragonfly Children’s Book Award (4writersandreaders.com)