One thought on “Bloomability

  1. T. Prichard & M. Ebersole says:

    As we mentioned in our earlier responses, we didn’t intend to select only books about boarding school, our suicide, but once we decided on A Troublesome Boy, we kept making connections to other books with similar themes. This week, we continue with the boarding school connection and respond to Sharon Creech’s Bloomability. This particular novel made several award lists, including the 2001 Young Reader’s Choice Award Masterlist and the Young Adult’s Choices for 2000. Compared to A Troublesome Boy and Searching for Alaska, Bloomability is an easy-read, a coming of age novel, set at a boarding school in Switzerland. The main character, Domenica Santolina Doone, AKA Dinnie, leads an unconventional life. Her father regularly moves the family from rural to city, city to city, and state to state, “looking for the right opportunity” (p. 6). Her older sister, Stella, becomes quieter with each move, and her older brother, Crick, gets into deeper and deeper trouble. Everything comes to a head one evening, “Dad was on the road, Crick was in jail, and Stella was having a baby” p. 8).

    One of the things I like about this book is the way Creech lets the reader inside Dinnie’s head—the chapters are interspersed with excerpts from her dreams—dreams evolving out of her life—a single box with all of her possessions, a plane ride, her adaptability, a train…. Another thing I’ve always like about Creech’s writing is her descriptions, “In the plane, you saw it all spread out beneath you, a living map, a wide, wide living photograph, and you were suspended above it and you knew where you were. You were a dot, miles and miles and miles above…” (p.12). I’ve always enjoyed flying, looking out the window like Dinnie, watching the patchwork quilt of fields and crop circles, the crisscrossing of highways, and the blinking of city lights far below in the dark night. So, it is with no surprise that I was gently pulled into Dinnie’s world, while she was jerked from hers into the boarding school life where her Uncle Max was to be the new headmaster and her Aunt Sandy was to teach.

    This “opportunity” as the adults called it, was in Lugano, Switzerland, about as far removed from Dinnie’s experiences as it was from the little town in New Mexico where she had just lived. Dinnie is described as “adaptable,” from adjusting to all the moves—I can relate, we moved a lot, too, and I’ve kept on moving. Personally, I like the adventure of a move—the new house, the new people, the new sites, the new culture… Dinnie, however, decides she has had enough, “I wanted to stop moving and I wanted to be somewhere and stay somewhere and I wanted my family” (p. 17). For Dinnie, probably the biggest mystery was why was she in Switzerland? Why did she have to leave her family—her mother, her father, Crick, Stella, and the new baby? “I thought it was because I’d done something wrong, and this was my punishment. Or maybe they had to make room for the new baby and one of had to go. Me” (pp. 22-23).

    Once she arrives in Switzerland, she begins to post signs in her bedroom window, “KIDNAPPED! HELD AGAINST MY WILL!” (p.26), Aunt Sandy, unfazed, points out, “People might not be able to read it in English” (p. 26) and she buys Dinnie an English-Italian dictionary. On Dinnie’s next attempt, Aunt Sandy tells Dinnie she has invited “someone to come into the house” to kidnap her (p. 31). This time, she goes for “help!” but Uncle Max explains she has actually said, “Help yourself!” (p. 32). I got a kick out of this whole sequence. Instead of reacting negatively to Dinnie’s signs, they use this as an opportunity to get her more involved with the language. I suspect the locals get a kick out of her signs, too. As she takes daily walks to get more acquainted with her surroundings, she begins to look more carefully after Guthrie, another student tells her an allegory, which she doesn’t quite get. While she thinks it is weird she “could be standing in Switzerland and see Italy, and it was weird that palm trees and snow could be in the same scene” (p. 28), I thought it was sheer awesomeness to stand at Iguazu Falls in Brazil and see Argentina and Paraguay and I don’t see anything weird about living in Tucson where I can see snow on the mountains as I stand in my backyard desert with prickly pear cactus, orange trees, and lizards.

    Of the other students she encounters, I find Lila the most interesting. Lila is a high maintenance kind of girl who finds fault with literally everything and everyone. Dennie describes her encounters with Lila as, “Being with Lila was like watching a movie. You couldn’t believe she was actually doing and saying some of these things, but you stuck around to see what would happen next” (p. 68). One of my most favorite scenes in the book is the night Lila joins Dennie, Aunt Sandy, and Uncle Max for dinner, Chapter 11, It’s So Rude. Lila’s litany of dislikes turns into a xenophobic discourse of all the students at this American school, “The Japanese drive me crazy…They never look at you. It’s so rude” (p. 72). When asked which language she is studying, she replies, “That Italian stuff I have to take…and Spanish, but I’m changing at semester…. I hate it. Do you know what they do? They talk in Spanish all the time. It’s so rude” (p. 72). The Italians “dress too flashy…. And they’re so loud. It’s so rude” (pp.72-73). As for the Germans, “Do you know what they do in my history class? … They answer everything. They don’t give anyone a chance to think. It’s so rude” (p. 73). She covers the rest of the students and then “trashes” the Americans at the school, “…the Americans who are here aren’t really American…. Most of them haven’t even lived in the States for years and years…. Hardly any of them care if a person is American or not…” (p. 74). Lila makes it clear that an American school should be only for Americans, and not just any American, but by Americans just like her. This chapter just begs for discussion and I can imagine a lively one at that filled with great vocabulary opportunities like, xenophobic, bigot, discriminatory, hypocrite, intolerant, narrow-minded, nationalistic, prejudiced, racist, unfair….

    Dinnie’s experiences in Switzerland are what dreams are made of for the adventuresome—and maybe even for the not so adventuresome. The school, the many cultures, the sites are definitely something I yearned for growing up; but the truth is, I got so homesick during a two-week Girl Scout Camp, I had to go home (I broke on my birthday when my mom called.), so I don’t think I was up to Dinnie’s “opportunity.” It didn’t keep me from dreaming, though…. And as Dinnie’s year abroad unfolds, she begins to figure out who she is and where she fits, moving from the “average girl” to one who soars “over the mountains and over the ocean, dipping and gliding and looping and turning…” (p. 273).

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