Critiques

Review Excerpts:


School Library Journal, October, 2001
What binds (these) stories together is the strong connection the main characters have with the natural world . . .
This is an important collection of previously published short stories brought together to develop a theme from diverse points of view. It breaks many of the stereotypes about what it means to grow up in rural America. Without exception, the stories are strong.


Voya, October, 2001
Heynen helpfully offers both urban and country readers a taste of rustic living in this collection of seventeen short stories, some no longer than two pages. They follow adolescent characters into a snowy trapping wilderness, along timeworn trails of migrant laborers, and through backwoods farmyards—with intrigue and trepidation. From established and award-winning authors, such as Alice Walker, Wallace Stegner, and Tomas Rivera, to first-time published Nancy K. Brown, storytellers reveal symbiotic and existential relationships with nature, whether unrelenting rains frigid temperatures, harsh storms, horses, chickens, or baby vultures. The parenting styles in the different stories reflect the diversity of the landscapes as well as the family structures. A multicultural range and dynamic variety make this collection even more appealing.
Wonderfully engaging, appealing to both male and female readers, this praiseworthy collection provides a useful addition to contemporary literature studies, to social studies segments of life in diverse rural geographies, and to creative writing classes—with the bonus of being an enjoyable read.

Booklist, September 15, 2001
Gr.9—up. Heynen, known for his stories about life in rural America, picked tales from fellow writers who are equally adept at evoking coming-of-age in a venue divorced from big-city lights. And what a roundup it is: a diverse group of 16 authors, among them, Wallace Stegner, Alice Walker, Tony Earley, Kathleen Tyau, and Tomas Rivera, forever destroy stereotypes of idyllic sunsets and carefree summers wading in the creek. The stories are smart, candid, and sometimes bloody, grounded in backbreaking work and the capriciousness of the natural world. As Heynen notes in his thoughtful introduction, physical scars may be "badges of honor" for city youth; for rural kids, they're a fact of daily life, reminders of how quickly "slow rhythms of the land" can turn dangerous. The collection will sit nicely alongside the publisher's previous short-story volumes—among them, Going Where I'm Coming From (1994) and Working Days (1997)—which also use particular backdrops to explore universal issues of leaving childhood behind.

The Education Digest, January 10, 2002
If the trend continues in this country to move off the farm and into the city (or suburbs), then the short stories assembled for this book about growing up rural may become classics. Or perhaps collectors' items, for, as Barbara Kingsolver says in her introduction to The Best American Short Stories of 2001, "Short story collections rarely sell half as well as novels; they are never block busters. They are hardly ever even block-denters."

However small, the genre does have a loyal but demanding following. As Kingsolver defines it, "A good short story cannot simply be Lit Light; it is the successful execution of large truths delivered in tight spaces." Using her definition as our yardstick, how well do the seventeen stories in Fishing for Chickens measure up? Over half pass muster and others come very close.

Jim Heynen, the editor of this anthology, has chosen stories "from all over the country [that] show young people in many different situations." He also chose authors from scattered backgrounds and wide-ranging slices in time, from the old master Wallace Stegner, born in 1909, to Eric Gansworth, a member of the Onondaga Nation, born 54 years later.

My favorite story in Fishing for Chickens is "Aliceville" by Tony Earley. A young boy and his Uncle Zeno go out to hunt a flock of geese they had seen land in a field the night before, watching as "[t]hey spread out their great wings, beating straight downward in short strokes, catching themselves in the air, and settling into the short corn stubble." Leaving early the next morning, the boy and his uncle quietly stalk the birds, only to have them, with their sixth sense, explode into escaping flight. The boy, acutely disappointed, later realizes that "[t]he simple presence of the geese had made our world seem less small, and we were smaller than we had been, once they were gone."

Large truths in small spaces. No less than the compressed richness of poetry in complete sentences.

—Tom Hull teaches courses in metals, mechanics, and applied communications at South Umpqua High School, Myrtle Creek, OR. In 1997 the Technology Educators of Oregon named him Teacher of the Year.

Kliatt,November, 2001
"Let me see your scars," the editor asks of those who say they grew up in the country. The stories of rural childhood he has collected here include their share of scar-producing experiences--scars of the spirit and the flesh. The harsh behavior of many of the parents is necessitated by the family's tenuous hold on life. . . Some of the 17 items here are more sketches than stories, but each one gives vivid insights into rural life. Fishing for Chickens is the latest title in Persea Books' remarkable series devoted to the lives of young people.
Michael P. Healy, English Teacher, Wood River H.S., Hailey, ID.


-- jh