Even though my childhood was more or less idyllic, I still liked to live vicariously through books. Some of my favorite fantasies to read about and imagine included:
1. Living on my own in the wild/a boxcar/an abandoned cabin. In reality, I could barely heat up a can of soup without my mom’s help, so the idea of me foraging for edible greens in the wilderness was a little ridiculous. I still liked to imagine myself totally My Side of The Mountain-ing it up.
2. Studying at an all-girls boarding school. Growing up with brothers, I thought this sounded fantastic. Probably no one would ever fart on me at an all-girls boarding school, I often thought wistfully.
3. Finding out that I’m actually a princess, but being really humble about it so that everyone would be like, “Oh, is Kerry a princess? I didn’t even know because she’s so down-to-earth.”
4. Being whisked away by long-lost relatives to live in a foreign country.
Bloomability by Sharon Creech fulfills number 4 on my fantasy list, which is why I loved it so much as a kid (and there’s even a boarding school, although it isn’t just for girls). Our protagonist Dinnie (real name: Domenica Santolina Doone) is well-versed in travel. She’s used to trekking all over the U.S. with her nomadic father, her artsy and accommodating mother, and her brother and sister. But then Dinnie’s sister has a baby and her brother ends up in jail. Suddenly, her Aunt Sandy and Uncle Max swoop in and take her off to Switzerland, where Max is the new headmaster of a boarding school. Everyone in the family agrees this will be a good “opportunity” for Dinnie. Dinnie herself isn’t so sure; she thinks she’s been “kidnapped by two complete strangers.”
Instead of being amazed by her new surroundings in Switzerland, Dinnie is just homesick. When she looks at the beautiful mountain views that amaze everyone else, she only sees the New Mexico landscape. Her unhappiness lasts until she starts to meet her classmates, kids from all over the world with unique experiences and stories. Like Guthrie, the Manic Pixie Boarding School Boy she develops a crush on. Or Keisuke, who thinks everything is stupid, but pronounces the word “stew-pod.” Or Lila, who loudly complains about all people, traditions, and foods that aren’t American. Dinnie says, “What I thought was interesting about her was that…she knew what she thought and she wasn’t afraid to say what she thought, even if it was wrong or stupid or mean.” I appreciate that Dinnie takes a real “glass-half-full” approach to someone’s xenophobia.
Even though I’m a little too old to enroll in an international boarding school full of 12-year-olds, Bloomability still makes me wish it could happen. I mean, without the 12 year olds. Or the boarding school. Dinnie’s life in Switzerland is full of magical and exciting experiences; there’s beautiful scenery, dramatic class lessons about world tragedies where everyone cries, lots of skiing, and a very scary avalanche, where we all learn the importance of staying on clearly marked trails.
The book’s title comes from something one of Dinnie’s classmates says. He uses the word “bloomable” instead of “possible,” which Dinnie agrees sounds much better anyway. Dinnie may not have wanted to come to Switzerland, but by the end of the book she’s made new friends, had crazy experiences and learned to embrace the “bloomabilities” of life.
-Dinnie’s aunt and uncle are basically the coolest. When Dinnie first gets to Switzerland, she makes a sign that says “Kidnapped” and hangs it in her window. Instead of getting upset and assuming that whatever Switzerland’s version of Children’s Services is will be called, Aunt Sandy just tells Dinnie that the locals probably can’t read her sign in English. Then she helps her rewrite it in Italian.
-The owner of the school keeps lipstick in her bra and can apply it without looking in a mirror, which Dinnie thinks is the coolest thing ever. I kind of do, too. Is this something people really do? Isn’t this uncomfortable? Doesn’t the lipstick get all melty? So many questions!
-Dinnie receives letters from her Aunts Grace and Tilly, who live in Kentucky. One of the aunts is constantly talking about her specialty, cheesecake jello. What is this miraculous, heavenly-sounding concoction? Is it cheesecake that involves jello? Is it jello flavored like cheesecake? Is it some sort of Turducken-style creation where jello is nestled inside a cheesecake? Any and all of the aforementioned options need to find their way into my life ASAP.
Sharon Creech was one of my favorite authors when I was growing up; her other books include Absolutely Normal Chaos, Chasing Redbird, and Walk Two Moons. What about you? Do you have a favorite Sharon Creech book? A story about international boarding school? A killer cheesecake jello recipe? Let me know in the comments, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And as always, let me know if there are any other books you’d like to see covered in Young Adult Education!
Image via Listal