14:14 PB ELEMENTS – A Boy and a Jaguar – CONFLICT
This first book I selected to examine for the elements of this year’s 14:14 Challenge was a treasure-find. Again, I am focusing this year on non-fiction, and this story, told in first-person point-of-view, testifies to the power of a young boy’s journey from disquieted childhood of doubt to an scientist’s passionate confidence.
A Boy and a Jaguar, by Alan Rabinowitz,
illustrated by Ca’Tia Chien
(c) 2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
(789 words, AR Reading Level 3.8)
And what does that journey take? Conflict.
This story element is center stage from page one. Young Alan, visiting the Bronx zoo with his father, wonders “Why is this jaguar kept in a bare room?” Conflict between freedom and captivity leads the story right into the boy’s own internal conflict. As he leans close to the cage to whisper to the jaguar, his father asks “What are you doing?” (implying a conflict between safety and danger) and with a page turn, the boy relates,
“I try to explain, but my mouth freezes, just as I knew it would. I am a stutterer. If I try to push words out, my head and body shake uncontrollably.”
Alan’s internal conflict with his inability is revealed.
The main character’s battle with his problem is emphasized by the layers of conflict that are described. His problem poses a conflict with the education system; his parents have conflict with teachers. His problem conflicts with his own self esteem: “Am I broken?”
But Alan’s goal to solve his problem begins with the two things he can do without stuttering: sing–and talk to animals. His five pets listen and understand. “Animals can’t get the words out, just as I can’t…” he realizes. So his goal to solve his problem expands–to help animals who are ignored or misunderstood.
Throughout this book, Alan’s heart-wrenching battle goes on, but with small victories. He learns to accommodate, and in college learns through an experimental program and intense concentration to speak without stuttering. Even with this, however, the conflict has roots in his life: “…nothing has changed on the inside. I still feel broken.”
The rest of the story I’ll leave for you to discover. One final conflict–a fifteen minute moment–seems to be the break-over point for Alan. And then, as if to place his journey of courage and success in bookends, the author brings back the safety-danger conflict with a final scene that I’ll admit, brought tears to my eyes.
I realized with the reading of this book that layers of conflict deepen the meaning of a story, and highlight or emphasize the main character’s personal conflict and risk.
How have you used conflict in your writing? How has conflict in any of your work been layered to emphasize troubles or problems the main character experiences?
(See a list of other reviewers posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)