The Philadelphia Inquirer
Girl’s tale told in verse
By Mia Geiger
At first consideration, a story told in poetry might lead some readers to say “No, thanks.” But after reading Pieces of Georgia you’ll wonder if the tale could be told any other way.
Geared to readers ages 10 to 14, but sophisticated and subtle enough to satisfy adults, the story, written by Chester County’s Jennifer Bryant, focuses on a young girl struggling with the sudden death of her mother seven years earlier.
A few days before her 13th birthday, the girl, Georgia McCoy, a gifted artist like her mother, receives an anonymous card in the mail containing a one-year membership at a local art museum. They are a gift and a year that transform her life.
Georgia lives with her tight-lipped construction-worker father, who has locked himself in an emotional cocoon since his wife died. The father and daughter live in a trailer on a horse farm next to a development of mansions.
Labeled “at risk” at her middle school, she’s required to frequently meet with the school guidance counselor, Mrs. Yocum. Early on, Mrs. Yocum gives her a diary and suggests she write down things she’d like to ask or tell her mother.
In one entry, she writes:
I imagine you went to art museums in Savannah,
and maybe you even went to some here in Pennsylvania,and
maybe you even went to the Brandywine River Museum.
And if you did, that would be another reason Daddy wouldn’t
like me going there, wouldn’t want one more thing to remind
him that right up until the week you died,
what you liked to do best
was dance your pencil across a blank page
and make something come alive.
When the young teen isn’t caring for the horses on the farm, clipping coupons, or making dinner, she’s sketching or secretly taking the bus to the museum. She’s also getting to know Tiffany O’Neill, her overscheduled friend with problems of her own; trying to avoid the druggies at school who invite her to hang out with them; and enduring the rich and snobby Amanda Ray, who calls her “farm girl” and taunts her in the school cafeteria.
All the while, she wonders who sent the gift. Could it have been the school nurse who routinely gives her fruit-flavored Rolaids for her stomachaches? Mrs. Yocum? Her art teacher, Miss Benedetto; or her Great-Uncle Doug who sends her a card with $20 for her birthday every year?
Mixed in with moments where Georgia aches for the comfort of her mother, a little comic relief lightens the pages. As the story progresses, her father has some breakthroughs of his own:
Maybe it’s me getting older, or maybe
it’s his job going pretty good, or maybe it’s just
the warmer weather and sunshine…
but something inside of Daddy has loosened up –
like the ice on the pond I saw split
apart one afternoon,
the sharp edges slipping under the surface
until hardly a ripple was left.
The told-in-verse style pushes the book along seamlessly, with a harmonious rhythm that almost calls out to be read aloud. It’s a slow-paced, yet forward-moving tale that leaves you wanting to know more after each chapter.
Bryant, who has written biographies, picture books and poetry, teaches children’s literature at West Chester University. Mentions of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the 76ers, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and Route 1 help create a local flavor.
It’s tough to read Pieces of Georgia without feeling like you’ve grown to understand a little more about the impact of a mother’s death, the need to let the grieving process play itself out, and having faith in better things to come.
Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.