The Rope Walk
By Carrie Brown
Published by Pantheon books
Having had my own childhood experiences in the verdant hills of southern Vermont, this book was a trip back in time for me. This drama isn’t about Vermont though; it is about losing innocence and gaining courage and devotion. It’s about realizing for the first time that there are many bad things in the world and seeing some of them personally, such as prejudice and disease, and yet not being marred by it.
“The Rope Walk” tells the moving story of ten year old Alice who is a very quiet and introspective girl, and who has lived a protected life with her father (a college professor) and five brothers in the countryside of Vermont. She has felt safe, secure, and loved in her home not realizing that the outside world can be so much different than the one she lives in. On her tenth birthday she is presented with two windows into that other world. The first is Theo, an interracial child from the city who is staying with his white grandparents. The second is Kenneth Fitzgerald a famous aging artist who is dying of AIDS.
Alice and Theo soon become fast friends and come to not only enjoy, but need each others companionship. Both children spend portions of their days keeping company with Kenneth and reading to him about the expedition of Lewis and Clark. Through their experience and reading the children come up with the idea of building Kenneth a rope walk to provide him some freedom and beauty. Their good intentions have startling consequences that even Theo, who has seen and heard so much from living in New York City, did not expect. The jaded adults in their life just can’t seem to see their innocence in what happens, and Alice comes to know what being alone really feels like.
Carrie Brown’s ability to write such a moving story from the viewpoint of a young girl is amazing. Her use of metaphor and her detail in the descriptions of Alice’s feelings, her senses, and her perception of the world makes the reader feel like they are right there with her. This is a book that you won’t soon forget.