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Beethoven in Paradise

Beethoven in ParadiseFresh Lookol­o­gy fea­tures books pub­lished sev­er­al years ago that are too good to lan­guish on the shelf.

Mar­tin Pittman takes a reader’s heart and runs with it. He lives in a trail­er park called Par­adise, but his home life is any­thing but. Martin’s father is abu­sive, his moth­er com­plete­ly cowed. He has no sib­lings. His grand­ma, Haze­line, who comes on Sun­days to take him to the Howard John­son Prince of Wales buf­fet, is quite a character—one the read­er is unsure of at first. She’s a leath­ery, give-you-a-piece-of-my-mind, smok­ing, cack­ling sort of grandmother—but she’s on Martin’s side, thank good­ness. So is his reclu­sive friend Wylene, a grown woman who can tol­er­ate only Martin’s gen­tle pres­ence in her trail­er and her life. And so is Sybil, the new girl who comes into town—Sybil is unlike any­one Mar­tin has ever met before.

Mar­tin needs these good peo­ple on his side. He faces bul­ly­ing at school, in town, and on the base­ball field, in addi­tion to the abuse at home. What keeps him going is music. Mar­tin loves music—all kinds—listening to it, mak­ing up tunes in his head, play­ing his har­mon­i­ca. Wylene says he has a gift. Haze­line and Sybil echo this encour­age­ment. Mar­tin wants to play a real instru­ment like a piano or a vio­lin, and when a vio­lin shows up at the local pawn shop, he can think of lit­tle else out­side of mak­ing it his own.

The prob­lem is his father. For some rea­son Ed Pittman thinks music—and espe­cial­ly the play­ing of it—is for sissies. He’s furi­ous with Mar­tin for his lack of base­ball skill, his love of music, and his friend­ship with Wylene. He’s furi­ous with life, real­ly. Haze­line con­firms this for Mar­tin. Ed doesn’t like any­one, she says—not Mar­tin, not him­self.

In the course of this short novel—and with the help of Haze­line, Wylene, and Sybil—Martin learns that, although he can’t change his father, he can learn to stick up for him­self. He can live into being who he real­ly is. He can find a way to make music.

There are many jump­ing off points in this nov­el for social-emo­tion­al learn­ing. Beethoven in Par­adise is replete with scenes show­ing empa­thy, anger, sad­ness, hap­pi­ness, and wor­ry. It’s all about new and unex­pect­ed friend­ships. Although there is bul­ly­ing and abuse, Mar­tin expe­ri­ences kind­ness­es and shows kind­ness to oth­ers, as well. He learns that he can’t change peo­ple, but he can change how he reacts to them. He does not have to become like his father.

A class, read­ing group, or book­club could have fun learn­ing about dif­fer­ent kinds of music. Wylene and Mar­tin lis­ten to a diverse array of music, which is men­tioned by title/composer/performer—easy to look up and play. There are inter­est­ing details about har­mon­i­ca play­ing, musi­cal prac­tice (Mar­tin plays by ear), vio­lin, sax­o­phone, and Beethoven, as well. Music might actu­al­ly be con­sid­ered a char­ac­ter in this book.

Beethoven in Par­adise was pub­lished in 1997, but its timelessness—in theme, cir­cum­stance, and emotion—makes it an excel­lent pick for read­ing with mid­dle-grad­er read­ers today. With good humor, hon­est looks at hard things, and a won­der­ful cast of char­ac­ters, Bar­bara O’Connor gives us a com­ing-of-age sto­ry of friend­ship, com­mu­ni­ty, and genius that deserves a Fresh Lookol­o­gy here in 2019! 

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