Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray is another of those memoirs that works on more than one level. Ray describes her childhood growing up in rural Georgia, in the kind of poverty that leaves little doubt that the family struggled but cloaked in a deep familial love where you never once feel sorry for the author no matter how devastating the details may threaten to become. Ray’s story telling abilities sparkle in these chapters as she shares herself with the sort of intimacy one would expect curled at the feet of a family elder sharing her memories. Alternating with the chapters of her life, Ray describes the changing environment of her home, the species of plants and animals that are struggling to survive in a world that has been ravaged by development. Weaving history and imagination throughout these chapters, she gives the reader a taste of her own loss as she seeks to rediscover the extinct or threatened species of her childhood. Given that she writes this memoir with an agenda, to draw attention to the changing ecology of southern Georgia, Ray never stumbles into being preachy or pedantic. Instead, she shares first herself and then her world, giving the reader a reason to care. A brilliant move on the author’s part because once the reader cares about Ray there really is no choice but to care about what she cares about. This is a gentle memoir, honest without being emotionally messy, that also serves as a call to action, complete with lists of extinct and endangered species as well as some resources for the reader who has enough compassion to care about the pines and lands of Georgia. Only the hardest hearted reader could close this book and not have some concern and I commend Ray for having the passion and talent to write a wonderful memoir.

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