In Rod Barclay's terrific adventure yarn, High Wind to Idaho, the love Mr. Barclay has for historic narrative that crosses cultures and binds them is fully displayed in his premiere Middle Grade novel. The plot is relatively straight-forward and any jump to the Amazon listing provides the details.
Mr. Barclay has done his homework and it shows. His creation of an Idaho farm, a Japanese home, the beauty of San Francisco and the inner workings of train travel, all set in 1896, is marvelous. The book is full of scientific details about airship travel and temperatures and altitudes, barometric pressure etc etc to fill the heart of any ten year old budding scientist, and it is cleverly worked into a story line that is quite appealing.
The two boys, Yoshi and Billy, from two very different worlds, become a metaphor for so many themes in this novel. There is not only the major theme of friendship despite or because of their cultural differences, but also broader themes that touch on race, prejudice, mass hysteria and our own universality in this journey of life. Sometimes Mr. Barclay dips in and touches the themes, and when he does, it is beautiful. Often they simply resonate like a dinner bell on an Idaho farm.
Mr. Barclay presents a great concept: seeing two very different cultures through two very different eyes. The hard part with a tale such as this one was deciding who the main character really was. Equal weight was given, so it seemed, to both Billy and Yoshi, and while it felt as if the tale was, in theory, through Billy's eyes, having the other point of view expressed almost equally left me feeling a little unsteady.
Mr. Barclay provides warmth to his characters and allows them to be vulnerable which is one of my favorite qualities when reading fiction in this genre. When tensions mount, he doesn't quickly resolve the issue, and the train ride to San Francisco had me reaching for some herbal de-stressers. Often, the Idaho community speaks like they're straight out of "Little House on the Prairie" ("...it fair makes my heart ache...") and the hokeyness of it all got a little strained. There were a few anachronistic touches that jarred me once in a while. Would a boy from 1896 think the words, What the? ?
These are trivial. The book is great. The story is a blast. Thank you, Mr. Barclay, for a very enjoyable read.