Laurinda’s Rating: 1.5
The 1946 Newbery Medal Winner, Strawberry Girl, is the story of the Boyers, a family that moves from Marion County down to south Florida and attempts to turn neglected land into a profitable farm. A nearby family, the Slaters, are vehemently opposed to their efforts and undermine them at every turn. Pa Slater lets hogs run through the strawberry fields, slashes the barbed wire fence, and even sets the grass around the Boyer’s house on fire, nearly burning his own children to death. Despite these challenges, the Boyer family successfully establishes a business raising and selling strawberries. They also exercise considerable restraint and charity towards the Slater family, realizing that only Pa Slater is an antagonist. When Shoestring Slater comes to tell Mrs. Boyer that his mother and younger siblings are deathly ill, Mrs. Boyer and Birdie go over there and nurse everyone back to health. This action helps break the hostility of Pa Slater. He also “finds God” at a camp meeting; at the end of the book, he’s a reformed man who’s given up drinking, shooting the heads off his chicken, and running free range cattle. He has accepted “civilization” and plans to raise cash crops like the Boyers.
Birdie Boyer and Shoestring Slater serve as a microcosm of Boyer/Slater relationship. Initially, Birdie hates Shoestring. On his father’s orders, Shoestring drove hogs through the strawberry fields; he also delivered threatening notes. More personally, he did twirled a snake through the air and onto her Sunday hat. She, in return, releases the baby rabbit which he put into his pet rattlesnake’s cage. However, the two also worry about their fathers’ actions and try to keep the peace. Shoestring warns Birdie that his father is planning on sabotaging the fences again. Eventually, the peace efforts bear fruit, and Birdie and Shoestring become good friends, with Birdie dedicated to helping Shoestring in school.
Despite the back-and-forth sabotage efforts, this story is extremely tedious. Very little happens and there is no build-up to the resolution where Pa Slater completely changes his attitude on everything. That just happens in the last chapter or so. It’s also written nearly entirely in dialect, complete with creative phraseology and spelling. This makes for downright painful reading. Character “development” doesn’t mitigate these other flaws because it’s not present. Although relationships evolve somewhat, no characters demonstrate deep growth. Compounding these flaws, the book has very strong religious overtones. I’m not opposed to some religious content, but the presentation is trite and made me want to punch the characters for being overly-moralizing, self-righteous sticks-in-the-mud (why yes, I’m seeing how many hyphenated descriptors I can insert into one post). Skip this book, as not even the illustrations are any good (although the perspective is poorly done enough that it makes the characters contort hilariously at times).