The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech. Realistic Fiction/Mystery/Folklore.
Naomi and Lizzie find their friendship tested when a body falling out of a tree turns out to be Finn, a boy who captures hearts. Meanwhile, across the ocean, Mrs. Kavanaugh and Miss Pilpenny discuss murder and plot revenge.
Themes/Content: Friendship, family, orphans, tragedy, death, revenge, relationships, forgiveness, Ireland, Irish folklore, Finn McCoul, symbolism, setting, reality, fear, coping, connectedness, crows (rooks)
Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, discussing symbolism, discussing author’s craft and word choice, readers who like a bit of sadness, but not sobbing tear-jerkers, readers who like a mystery, readers who are able to trust a story, discussing characterization, discussing parallelism
My Two Cents: It was very hard to assign a genre to this book. In some respects it felt like a mystery… Who (or what) is Finn? What kind of devious revenge are the spinsters planning? In some respects this felt like folklore/fantasy… Is Finn a ghost? What’s with all of the crows (rooks)? Is there really fairy gold? I think though that this is mostly a story about relationships, which I think makes it fall best under realistic fiction. Reading the themes and content above you may get the impression that this is a dark depressing book, but in fact it is not.
For the many Sharon Creech fans out there, the writing won’t disappoint. She just has such a unique style that on every page I was delighted with her little gems of word choice. This was also a book I had a hard time putting down, for several reasons. Of course her word choice is incentive enough to keep reading, but I really loved Naomi, Lizzie, and all of the characters in the book. Naomi is down to earth and a little sarcastic (which I can always appreciate.) Lizzie is a little more needy and formal, and a chatterbox! They make an unusual pair, but when their friendship is tested you find yourself hoping that they will overcome the challenge. Finn is a charmer, and a mystery and the source of friction between the girls. The odd thing is that even after finishing the book he is still a mystery to me. The secondary characters in both Blackbird tree and “Across the Ocean” are just as interesting, each one with a unique quirk or personality.
This book could be challenging for some readers. It is the kind of book in which you have to have a little blind faith that the confusion at the beginning of the story will work itself out by the time you reach the end. That confusion was part of what kept me glued to this book. I kept reading because wanted to make sense of the story. Creech is masterful in the way that she reveals essential plot points little by little along the way. This could work as a read aloud, but might be difficult because of the way the dialog is written (at times,) and the Irish brogue.
Here is a short video in which Sharon Creech discusses The Great Unexpected:
Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:
- Blashfield, Jean F. Ireland. New York: Children’s Press, 2002. Print.
- Burns, Batt. The King with Horse’s Ears and Other Irish Folktales. New York: Sterling, 2009. Print.
- De Valera, Sinéad. The Magic Gifts. Dublin, Ireland: Wolfhound Press, 2000. Print.
- Doyle, Roddy. A Greyhound of a Girl. New York: Amulet Books, 2012. Print.
- Krull, Kathleen. A Pot o’ Gold : a Treasury of Irish Stories, Poetry, Folklore, and (of course) Blarney. New York: Hyperion Books, 2009. Print.
- Spilsbury, Richard, and Louise Spilsbury. A Murder of Crows. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2003. Print.
- White, Ruth. Way Down Deep. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.
Favorite Quote: (There were so many it was hard to choose!)
“Her companion, Miss Pilpenny, recapped the pen. ‘Yes, Sybil, a fine and clever revenge.’
‘Shall we have a murder tonight?’
‘Indeed Sybil, splendid notion.’
‘And then perhaps a little jam and bread.'”
(Creech, Sharon. The Great Unexpected. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2012. 10. Print.)
The Final Word(s): Beautiful writing! Stick with it! 😀