This book is so quirky. I found it wonderfully funny and entertaining. We aren’t talking about a plot that will win awards. It’s almost like you are eavesdropping on Harold and there is no real beginning or end, just where you started and stopped paying attention to his life. As I read to review books, I take notes, and my first note just says: Geographically accurate!! As someone who often trolls Chicago tv shows on Twitter for the opposite, this is all important to me.
Harold Knishke wanders around downtown Chicago one summer day after being told my his flute instructor that he was the worst flute player ever. THE WORST. His tutor even offers to buy Harold’s flute off of him, so he is never tempted to pick up his instrument again. As Harold walks, he recalls the night before when his friend Geets crawls through his window, bringing him Guinness and a banana, in honor of the dead gorilla named Bushman. In a chance meeting, a beatnik girl sitting on the steps of the Art Institute tells him that he needs to look at a painting inside. “It does things,” she claims. Harold does indeed stare at the picture, and as he does, it transforms him. The world to him looks a little bit off; better, but off. Through more chance meetings Harold enrolled in a life drawing class and decided that he wants to be an artist, he just isn’t sure if he knows what one is yet.
I’d call this YA as opposed to MG, Bushman Lives! Contains some pretty complex themes that range from political systems like socialism to the philosophies of art, these concepts get presented in a simplistic and understandable way. Harold contemplates what art is and what makes a great artist. There is also drinking and sex as peripheral happenings. Nothing graphic and it is so “matter of fact” that I barely noticed until I remembered that he is high school age.
In the end, we never learn if Harold decided to be an artist. But what we do know is that Harold made a decision that changed the course of his life. I know it left me wanting a sequel which is probably not happening. Still, I know I’ll be thinking of Harold the next time I’m in the Art Institute.
I borrowed Bushman Lives! by Daniel Pinkwater from the Chicago Public Library.