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on my honor

5 august 2015

On My Honor, Marion Dane Bauer's 1987 Newbery Honor novella, was compared by marketers to Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia. Bluntly, it's in the "kid dies" category of children's books, and one looks forward to harrowing experiences and bitter sorrows.

On My Honor delivers everything one expects, and it's not badly done. The thoughts of a boy trying to get out of responsibility for a tragedy are uncomfortably evoked. Bauer avoids facile resolutions (the most facile of which would be to have the dead kid reappear and be OK). She sets the whole book up to deliver a nugget of wisdom from an adult:

I can't imagine a heaven that could be closed to charming, reckless boys. … I believe there's something about life that goes on. It seems too good to end in a river. (89)
Young, charming, reckless Tony's life has ended in a river where he's been swimming illicitly with his friend Joel, son of the speaker and focal character of the novel. Joel is usually led around by Tony's devil-may-care forcefulness, but in this one instance (after Tony has suggested they both jump in the river to start with), Joel proves the better and more daring swimmer. After Tony disappears, presumed drowned, Joel tries to cover up the death and his part in it.

One's heart goes out to Joel, but like his father, you can't be too hard on him. He's a kid and he's not to blame, despite his self-reproach. On My Honor is a spare little book, wise if not very entertaining. In some ways it reads like a children's morality tale of a century earlier.

Bauer, Marion Dane. On My Honor. 1986. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1987.