3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Say Yes on Saturday is a historical novel based on a true story by Lawrence Schneider.
After asking his mother why she named him Clarence, our protagonist learns that his grandfather knew that Clarence would be special. Thus, he required a special name. In 1940, Clarence Arnold is five years old, living with his family in a working class neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. Eventually, he attends a Catholic grade school where it is discovered that he has a lower than average IQ. At times, he doubts the truth behind his grandfather’s belief that he is special. Readers are invited to witness the captivating events of Clarence’s life, from childhood to his retirement years. We are with him as he buys his first car, falls for a popular girl named Suzanne as a teenager, makes decisions about learning a trade or pursuing higher education, changes jobs, and starts a family. Ultimately, Clarence spends his life chasing after the notion of fulfilling his grandfather’s vision for the kind of person he would be.
While the novel begins in Ohio, there are changes in location along Clarence’s life journey, including Kansas, Alabama, and Florida. Beginning in 1940, the story ends in the 2000s. It is told in the first person, with the inclusion of some of Clarence’s thoughts placed in italics in addition to small, black and white illustrations to help readers visualize objects mentioned in the tale. The historical backdrop is woven into the plot in satisfying ways. Clarence is young when World War II begins. His father shows him “how to collect aluminum foil liners from discarded cigarette and gum packs as a way to help with the war.” Because a large number of men joined the military during this time, women, like his mother, enter the workforce. The space race between the Soviet Union and the United States is also a part of the narrative.
Clarence is an easily likable character. Though he is deemed dyslexic and even has trouble passing the third grade, he is an overcomer. He works hard, proves others wrong, and takes his mother's encouraging wisdom to heart by not giving up. He thrives on adventure, takes risks, and is highly motivated. There are many endearing moments, such as when he is in grade school and is afraid to ask what he is supposed to do with a blank sheet of paper and crayons. One of my favorite moments is the joy he has from bonding with his father over fishing. When he is growing up, his best friend is a boy named Tim. But as they follow different paths, Clarence continues to make new friends during different phases of his life. Clarence has many relationships and experiences that continually shape him and contribute to defining what his calling in life will be.
There was certainly a lot to like about this novel. Initially, I enjoyed the pace. His grade school years get a lot of attention in an appropriate fashion. Junior high was brushed over, but then things were more thorough again when it came to figuring out what his education and career goals would be in high school, which was very realistically portrayed. He weighs his options, changes his mind, and tries new things throughout his life. Basically, there were times when the plot was very thorough and the steady pace allowed for the right amount of detail so that the reader was fully immersed in Clarence’s world. At other times, things were rushed in a way that didn’t make sense. This was particularly true for the love plot. There were some underdeveloped and underutilized characters that it would have been nice to see more of and get to know better.
I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. If I had to describe this book in one word, I would use “sweet.” However, I have to take a star off because of the inconsistent pace and characters who weren’t used or featured enough to achieve the novel’s greatest potential. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy biographical fiction.
Say Yes on Saturday
View: on Bookshelves
Like Tanaya's review? Post a comment saying so!