Eerie parallels

eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

In June we embarked on a major road trip around the Great Lakes from our home in MA. I brought some books on CD for in the car and a couple of paperbacks including Eleven, a powerful and poignant story by Patricia Reilly Giff. In the book, Sam who is just turning eleven, suspects that he may be someone else.

Sam doesn’t read well, so how can he decipher the old newspaper clipping in the attic with his picture as a three-year-old next to the word “missing”? He enlists Caroline of the tangerine hair to read it for him and asks her, “suppose I belong somewhere else?”  That worries him because he loves his grandfather Mack, the woodworking shop that they share, their friends Onji and Anima, and Night Cat, too. Sam’s teacher, Mrs. Stanek asks he and Caroline to build a castle for a unit they are studying about the Middles Ages. Perfect. That will get Caroline to Sam’s house, where maybe they can unravel the mystery of who he really is.

Anima reads a story…where had Sam heard it before? The photo in the newspaper clipping shows Sam wearing a sweater that he finds in Anima’s room. Why is he afraid of the number eleven?

Boldt Castle, Alexandria Bay, NY, photo by Egils Zarins

bronze harts on the entry arch, Boldt Castle, photo by Egils Zarins

I started reading Eleven when we were in the Thousand Islands area of New York near the St. Lawrence River on the route Egils had planned. We took a ferry to Heart Island to see Boldt Castle, walked its grounds in the rain, saw the hearts everywhere, in stone, in marble, and even as a visual pun in the bronze “hart” deer over the front archway. Mr. Boldt bought the island and had it made into the shape of a heart, then hired three hundred workmen to build the castle for the love of his life. When she suddenly died, everyone put down their tools and the castle was left to the weather and the vandals. Years later the state stepped in and started its renovation. After visiting the castle, we went across the border to Gananoque, Ontario for dinner.

That night I read in Eleven about the moment when Mack saw the wooden castle that Sam had made. Sam hadn’t realized he was building a real castle. Mack takes Sam on a ferry to a castle that looks a lot like his – the castle Sam must remember from when he was three. Sam discovers that Mack had worked as a carpenter at Boldt Castle. Mack and he take the ferry to Gananoque where Mack explains the story of his snatching Sam from the orphan home after his mother died and about the boat accident, and their coming soaking wet to Onji and Anima’s house. These are the scenes Sam dreams about in bits and pieces.

The hairs on the back of my neck rose, goosebumps appeared on my arms, when I read it. Sam reached out across the surface of the pages and into my life, right at the moment when he discovers where he has belonged all along.

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