Quaking, Kathryn Erskine’s story about 14-year old Matt who has been shuffled around from one family member to another and is finally sent to live with distant Quaker relatives touches on a number of serious themes, some more successfully than others.
Matilda, known as Matt, comes from a home where her father physically abused her and her mother. Matt has learned from an early age not to trust anyone or form attachments. The book does an excellent job of portraying how detrimental both physical and verbal abuse are to the development of a child. It follows this issue further into adulthood and our larger society to examine the power of words and violence on our culture.
Where the story falters is in following through on Matt’s family history. Where is Matt’s father and what are the consequences of his actions? Matt must have an opinion about him besides fear and that is never brought up in the book.
The plotline about Mr. Morehead aka Mr. Warhead, the pro-war world civilization teacher also seems simplistic and obvious. This character feels forced into the story as a way for the author to express her views against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Regardless of how one feels about this issue, it’s a heavy-handed, black and white way of examining a complicated event with far reaching implications. Perhaps Erskine presents the war and peace argument this way because Quaking is aimed at a teen audience but it does read like a by the numbers book report and comes across as preachy. I feel adolescents are capable of understanding more nuanced views of an issue.
Erskine does create a fully realized, three-dimensional character in Matt that teens can identify and empathize with even if they have not been in the same situation as Matt who has been abused and bullied. Every teen has at one point or another felt out of place and misunderstood and Matt’s character perfectly captures that feeling of wanting to disappear, “I make myself small and dark so that I look like a hole and there is nothing there.”
Quaking also looks at modern day Quakers, a religion most people probably don’t know much about. In this sense, the book is unique and gives readers an idea of Quaker philosophy and values
Here is a link on Flickr to modern day Quaker plain dressing or as I like to call it, clothing from the Gap.
Here is another link with what seems like a more traditional way of plain dressing.
Overall, Quaking is a book full of rich themes, language and a fully developed main character that provides much food for thought for young adults.