Everything changes the year Andy Rusch turns twelve. Until then, being a kid was easy in the 1950s. And in the small New Jersey town of Serenity, baseball, friends, school and helping out in his dad’s hardware store fill Andy’s days. Then one day, he befriends the town’s hermit, Onion John. John lives up on Hessian Hill, in a makeshift house built of stones. He is a fixture in town and an expert gardener, but people keep their distance because John is in his own world and speaks a language nobody understands. When Andy takes the time to listen, he opens his mind to John’s world of naïve superstition.
Mr. Rusch has big plans for Andy, including college at MIT and he doesn’t approve of the friendship. He wants Andy to get out of Serenity and be the first man on the moon, a vision Andy has trouble sharing. His dad tells him he must forget John’s foolish ideas and focus on this dream. Andy wants to please his father, but whose dream is it?
In an effort to understand, Mr. Rusch reaches out to Andy’s friend. The story takes a turn when Mr. Rusch and the townspeople decide they know how to better Onion John’s life. A new and modern house will civilize John and bring him into the real world. Although John tries hard to embrace his new circumstances, his old ways get in the way, disaster follows and then there’s no going back.
Onion John is the story of an unlikely friendship and how well-meaning people get caught up in an idea and fail to see that change doesn’t always work. Andy understands, because, while he’s becoming an adult, he’s still a part of John’s childlike fantasy world. And sometimes a child’s logic is the best.
It would’ve been better for everybody if he didn’t try so hard, to change. First, he wasn’t very good at it. And second, I didn’t see anything wrong with the way he was.
This interesting coming of age story is a little dated, but its themes of family, community, dreams and doing the right thing are timeless.
Click here to read more about Joseph Krumgold on Goodreads. He was the first author to win the John Newbery Medal twice!
Note: Summer is over, but I’m still reading my Summer Reading Challenge books! I chose Onion John to fill the category of a book that was published the year I was born. I discovered later, however, that it was published before I was born, but that it was awarded The Newbery Medal the following year. I say that counts!
Take a look at my choices for the 16 in 16 Challenge:
Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day: The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read: The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover: The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English: I Refuse by Per Petterson
Book 5 – A Second Book in a Series: Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
Book 6 – A Book To Learn Something New: The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum
Book 7 – A Book That Was Banned: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Book 8 – A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit: Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry
Book 9 – A Book with Non-human Characters: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Book 10 – A Book Recommended by a Librarian: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Book 11 – A Book Being Made into a Movie this Year: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Book 12 – A Book with Bad Reviews: The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!