Laurinda’s Rating: 3/5
The 2000 Newbery Medal Winner, Bud, Not Buddy is the story of an orphan kid trying to find his father. Bud is growing up in a Home in Flint, MI during the Great Depression. The one foster family experience discussed in the book is a horrifying failure, which leads to Bud running away. After a brief stint in a Hooverville, Bud takes off walking for Grand Rapids, where he thinks his father lives. He’s picked up by a kind stranger, concerned for the health of a black kid walking through that part of MI. Bud lies about his origin, getting a ride “back” to his “father” in G.R. with a stranger who’s transporting blood to Flint and union pamphlets back to G.R.
While alive, Bud’s mother cherished flyers for a band. Bud’s hoarded them, along with a blanket, rocks with writing on them, and a few other cherished possessions; he totes them around from place to place in a ratty suitcase. The flyers lead Bud to Herman E. Calloway, a band leader, who denies that he’s Bud’s father. The rest of the band take to the kid and welcome him, teaching him how to play various instruments. One night, Bud comments on some rocks that Calloway picked up, noting that he has some too. It comes out that Calloway is Bud’s grandfather. Bud’s mother was Calloway’s runaway daughter, his father possibly one of Calloway’s drummers. In the end, although it doesn’t take the form he expected, Bud does find a loving family.
My favorite portions were the small sections of “Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself” included in the narrative. some deal with adult behaviour of which you should be skeptical, like being told that someone is “gone”. They’re a comical yet sad window on Bud’s life and the hard lessons he had to learn after his mother died.
Bud himself is an interesting character; while he has few illusions about the inherent goodness of people, he also has no grasp of race relations/racism, as evidenced by his naivete about why Calloway always made sure the band had at least one white member.
This story got an average rating mostly because, for me, it was just that: average. The secondary characters weren’t gripping, and there were many points in the story where I was dragging myself through the pages just to finish it. I don’t have any major critiques; it just wasn’t one of my personal favorites.
That said, I would recommend this for middle-grade readers. It has interesting, subtle bits of 1930’s history, inserted in such a way as to let the narrative take center stage. Bud is an intelligent, amusing narrator who kids can connect with, particularly if they’re dealing with less-than-ideal family situations. Bud, Not Buddy is infused with optimism and hope, despite what Bud deals with (abuse, loss of a parent, hunger). Not something I’d reread, but a worthwhile Newbery entry, nonetheless.