Dewey, by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter. Published 2008
Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain. Published 1933
A small fluffy ginger kitten is left to freeze to death in a library drop-box during winter in small-town America. The librarians find it in time, and the kitten begins a new lease of life, as Dewey the library cat.
There is something about animal biographies, especially cats, which makes me so emotional, even at the start. But leaving that aside, I would cautiously say I enjoyed this book, although I did have some misgivings.
The main focus of the book – the kitten that was found and lived in the library – is a very sweet story, but I am not sure it is a ‘novel-sized’ story. It feels like it would work a lot better as a children’s picture book. While I enjoyed reading about Dewey’s antics and growing fame, the story became less about Dewey and more about why the author thinks we should love her special cat. Indeed, the structure of each chapter ends by telling me the exact same thing, and as a reader I don’t need to be told constantly that Dewey is a special cat, I got that from the first chapter. What I wanted was to be shown why is he special.
So, because the story of Dewey himself is quite short, around that is another story, the back-history of the small town, and Iowa itself. This was fantastic. I know little about middle-America and her successes and tragedies, so found this very interesting. Vicki Myron sketches its inhabitants quite clearly and her descriptions of the community are very compelling.
Testament of Youth
This epic book documents the mood of a nation and the build up to the First World War. It takes us through the idealistic young men who thought war was ‘heroism in the aspect’, the earnest stoic young women who nursed the soldiers, the mud and the cold of the French fields, the bittersweet victory, the realisation of the awful cost to both sides, and the pursuit of peace.
The author paints a good picture of what it was like to be a wealthy teenager leading up to war, and especially, to be a female during those turbulent times. There were little opportunities for distraction from the gigantic propaganda war machine and so these young people stirred themselves into a tizzy over dramatic poetry, sweeping music, and entreaties from the King down to school masters that to be a man meant fighting for their country, and if they died then it would be a ‘glorious death’. Older people capitalised and preyed on these emotive teenagers, and by the time these young officers realised that there was no glory in harsh dying then it was all too late.
Vera Brittain is very alive in these pages; she despairs and hopes and dreams throughout this long chapter of her life, and struggles later to find meaning in what she has seen. She laments for a lost generation, those who died and those who lived, and I lament with her from my lofty viewpoint ninety years hence. The latter part of her book concerns itself with peace, and with her determination to be an author. Still so relevant, as human emotions do not change as rapidly as the world in which they live; the voice and advice through the pages gives me comfort for my own modest ambitions.