If you check the ABOUT tab on this website you’ll see that LOIS LOWRY is the first name in the list of authors whose work I deeply admire and enjoy. I’m not alone in that opinion, but I’d take on all comers in an arm wrestling match for bragging rights that I love her work more than they do. (Not really. I broke my wrist a few years ago and have rods in my arm, but it if weren’t for that, I’d do it!)
Her recent release takes a side-step from narrative novels to a verse novel format. Doing so provides an avenue to move readers through time, geography, and the poignant voices of significant characters in a slim text that covers vast grounds. I’ve read ON THE HORIZON several times already, and will read it many times more in coming weeks and years. I recommend you do the same.
written by Lois Lowry
with illustrations by Kenard Pak
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020
When I say that Lowry’s work inspires me, I understate the truth. She unfurls a story in ways that leave me feeling moored to personal experiences while revealing new worlds and truths. In that I believe she is unequaled.
In this case, the novel is in three parts. She launches the initial verses with a personal statement about her own anchor, as a child, walking the beaches of Pearl Harbor in the days before the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. There, her child’s world was bounded by sunshine and sand shovels, bubbles and bonnets, and the joy of time spent with her visiting Nana. From that perspective, she voices her own young view of life, unaware of the Arizona cruising on the horizon. Verses continue with a narrative of the anchored US Pacific fleet that instills spirit and life into the Arizona and her sister ships. Following that are profiles and voices of a few lost sailors and some survivors.
In the next part, the verses shift through time to scenes of Japan, to the sky-sourced devastation of Hiroshima, voiced through victims and artifacts and survivors of that horror. Her deep research and personal experiences provide a lens to those events and their consequences with a child-and-family focus.
Part three moves readers to the years following the war, viewing the twisted relics and healing survivors, the ways in which a scarred peace becomes a platform for new life and an unpredictable future. The author’s note is a must-read. I marveled at the ways in which Lowry was living history unaware, was crossing paths with eventual friends, and first realized her brush with the Arizona through a serendipitous comment many decades after her childhood.
The black-and-white illustrations provide a perfect balance of archival tone with emotional depth and connections. Lowry’s masterful writing is a blend of free verse and selected rhymes, controlling meter and pacing to maximize the impact of each scene and experience portrayed.
Throughout each perspective, including those of the fleet, a theme of family and humanity is sustained. The passage of time and interconnected suffering and survival are powerfully revealed with minimal intrusions of historic markers, providing both accuracy and a timeless significance to the events.
Many of Lowry’s novels run hundreds of pages and thousands of words. Something I admire greatly about those novels is that each word feels essential and perfectly placed, each serving exactly as intended to produce a remarkable whole. In the seventy-two pages and minimalist text of ON THE HORIZON, that crafting of text is even more evident. With formal and formal and informal structures, her verses layer history with emotion, with grace, and always, with storytelling mastery.
This is a book that is accessible and valuable for readers as young as eight or nine, through middle grades and right on to adults. In each case, what the audience brings to the verses will expand and enrich them, as should be true in any reading, but most especially in verse. even more so when the author is Lois Lowry.