Friday, January 16, 2009

Pay it Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

After quickly finishing off Chasing Windmills las year, I knew I had to find as many copies of Catherine Ryan Hyde's books as possible. Unfortunately, this was a hard thing to do, as Books-A-Million only ever has Pay it Forward, if even that, and Barnes and Noble never seems to have a single one in stock, and if so, it is only one copy of Pay it Forward. But I didn't want to read this one, because I had already seen the movie when I was a lot younger. I vaguely remembered details, but distinctly recalled the plot of the story, and didn't think I would enjoy reading it after already knowing it. I was wrong.

It all started with the social studies teacher's extra-credit assignment: "Think of an idea for world change, and put it into action." Twelve-year-old Trevor McKinney just knew he liked this man, and just knew he would do a great job on the assignment. He began by doing something good for three people. The first he helped was a random stranger, the second a lovely neighbor he would sit and talk with on his paper routes, and the third someone inside his own life, someone who needed help not in any measurable way, but in a way that is infinite and can never be pinned down to a point. But instead of paying him back, he asked them to "pay it forward" by doing a favor for three more people, and those nine would each help three others, and those twenty-seven would help three each, and so on, each act a link in a chain of human kindness.

And no one--not his teacher, his mom, or anyone else in his small California town--could ever have dreamed of how far Trevor's plan would go. Not even Trevor thought that it made it outside the three people he helped. When so many things went wrong, Trevor didn't know if he should even try anymore, but he knew he could change the world, so he gave it all he had. On the day the assignment was due, Trevor walked up to the front of the class to tell them all it hadn't worked, hadn't made it past the first few, and that his idea had failed.

What he didn't know, was that it had gone farther than he thought, spanning across the country unseen, spread by many who didn't even know why they did it.

All I can say about this books I lost it, just shortly after starting to read it, and feared I left it on a plane, or in an airport, on in a different state, and completely freaked out. I had gotten about sixty pages in, and was so deep into the characters that the thought of losing the entire book shook my insides outside and my outsides inside. I was so mixed up and sad. But by some incredible miracle, the tiny little yellow book fell out of the sky and onto my bed one day. When I asked my mom if she had put it there she said, "Well, no. But I saw it somewhere the other day and thought it was yours. I made it halfway to your room, but never got to your bed with it. I wonder how it got there..."

Now, I'm not saying I believe her. I think she may have sneaked a look at it, and secretly horded it from me for weeks. Even though she doesn't really read. And it would have taken her longer than that to read it. But I still believe it was a miracle it ended up on my bed (or, well, that's a lie. It was on my bed, but I came home late-ish one night and was too tired to turn on the light so I just went and fell asleep and sometime between awake and sleep, I kicked it off of my bed and it landed near my bookshelf). But I was unbelievably ecstatic to see it the next morning.

So I went deeper into the characters and came out wanting more. Trevor's belief in the world is astonishing, as he has little belief in his own father, but still completely true and real. Reuben and Arlene make the perfect pair as two people that fit so well into each others personality frames that they feel like a puzzle--so hard to figure out at first, but once it's all solved, it feels like one whole instead of tiny little pieces of fragmented images. And for once, I loved that the movie was drastically different in some ways, because it allowed me to picture the scenes and characters on my own, as I so love to do. The images of every single one of these fictional people are etched into my mind as if they're real memories of people standing before me. Catherine Ryan Hyde can just do that--just make the words become real events and real people right before your eyes.

Once again, she does not fail to astonish, and I one-hundred-percent suggest this novel--even if you've seen the movie, even if you haven't. I think the Mr. Coffee made 5/5 cups for this one. Can't wait to buy some of her others--probably off Amazon.