4 out of 4 stars
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The Walking Man by Constance Irvin is a delightful read that falls into the genre of Other Fiction. It is a novel about growing up, and the author excels at entering the innocent mind of a child to tell this engaging story.
It is the year 2007, and Margaret Green is returning to Taneytown, Alabama, to fulfill a promise made to her beloved friend, Angel, many years ago. This is where they spent their childhood, and where many memories of friendships, freedom, and adventures were formed. There were good times and troubled times but, for Maggie, all are remembered with fondness. Upon entering Taneytown, Maggie stops by the river. While sitting there, memories of her childhood come flooding back. Irvin then transports the reader back to the Summer of 1950, where they meet 9-year-old Maggie and her friends Cotton, Buddy, Angel and Ida Mae, Angel’s little sister. For children, it was a time when life was carefree, imaginations ran wild and they reveled in their daily adventures.
It was a typical summer day. Maggie and Cotton set off on their morning ritual of following Wallis Walker, commonly known as the ‘Walking Man’. This mysterious character was so named due to his tendency to walk for hours each day. Nobody knew where he went or what he got up to but, for this group of friends, it was a mystery that they desperately wanted to solve. Maggie and Cotton collected their friends along the way, then headed a direction Wallis may have taken. On this particular day, they ventured further than they ever had before and, while traipsing through the woods, they heard distant voices and the sound of engines. The group spread out to explore. Angel stayed back with Ida Mae to keep her quiet, while the others went over the ridge to get a better look. Maggie found a position which gave her a clear view of what was happening. She saw something that frightened her. She screamed. This drew attention to the group, so they scattered, knowing they would all meet up again in town. Maggie grabbed Ida Mae on the way past and, assuming Angel had also fled, they ran as fast as they could towards home. Once back in town, they discovered that Angel was missing. From that day on, things would never quite be the same.
Irvin provided a beautiful portrayal of this era to set the tone for her novel. The book proved to be an easy read and was short enough to digest in one or two sittings. This said, I found myself wanting to slow my reading down. I was so engrossed in the tale that I did not want it to end. There was so much to like about this book, from the way it was written, to the mixture of themes delicately intertwined. Told in the first person, through the eyes of Maggie, this story truly captured the essence of youth. It appears that Irvin has meticulously delved into the mind of a nine-year-old girl to achieve such accuracy. She painted a charming picture of Maggie’s experiences and eloquently described Maggie’s feelings of freedom, fear, happiness, sadness, and pride. Irvin also realistically captured the inner turmoil a child feels when they are torn between wanting to be treated as an adult and wanting to remain a child. At times, Maggie’s frustration about this issue was almost palpable.
This story also looked at Maggie’s emotional transition from a world full of innocence and naivety, to one where she learnt that terrible things could happen, and nobody is immortal. The author’s ability to address these complex issues from a child’s perspective was impressive. The questions, concerns, and reactions displayed were both age appropriate and well executed. Irvin expertly captured the way Angel’s death made the children confront their own mortality. She also identified some issues that I had not even considered. One such example was that, for Maggie, the experience of losing her friend was further compounded by the sudden restrictions placed on her liberty. As a result, Maggie was very upset about the impact Angel’s death was having on her own life. She felt constrained by the sudden need to be escorted everywhere and resented the abrupt loss of her spontaneity and freedom. I thought this provided an excellent display of the egocentric thought processes seen in younger children, thus reminding the reader of Maggie’s true social and emotional age.
The only negative thing I could say about this book was that I located a few errors which had escaped editing. These included a couple of missed spaces, the occasional presence of superscript and, in one instance, the appearance of some random symbols between two words. This said, the errors were infrequent and did not disrupt the flow of the story. The rest of the book appeared professionally edited. I should make mention that, on my Kindle Paperwhite, there appeared to be formatting issues. There were several additional blank lines, and the words did not always run to the end of the rows. When I read the book on Kindle Cloud Reader, however, these issues were resolved. This makes me think there was a problem with the transfer to my Kindle device rather than an actual editing issue.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this journey to Taneytown, and I could have happily stayed for longer. This story provided me with a wonderful trip down memory lane and allowed me to reminisce about things long forgotten. It is very rare for me to feel disappointment when I realise I have finished a book, but this novel certainly achieved that. While the story contained a few errors, the enjoyment I received far outweighed these minor slips so, for this reason, I rated this book 4 out of 4 stars. It is a story I intend to revisit again.
I would recommend this book to any reader who enjoys a relaxing, engaging read, especially one that contains elements of mystery and adventure. People who appreciate well-developed characters, or would like the opportunity to recapture their youth, should also enjoy this story. I would not recommend it to readers seeking a fast-paced, high-intensity read or a book that provides in-depth, graphic details.
The Walking Man
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