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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Beat Movement as 1950's Counterculture in The Beat on Ruby's Street

When I first read the summary of  Jenna Zark's novel, The Beat On Ruby’s Street, which I received from The Bookplex, I thought that it had an unusual focus for a YA novel.  Yet in the course of reading this book I realized that the problems that Ruby and her family dealt with are remarkably similar to those that face current families. A book set sixty years ago may seem distant to many readers, but I was struck by how contemporary the issues were.  


I thought that Ruby herself was humanly flawed, yet still a strong and appealing character for the majority of the novel.  Toward the end of the book I found her somewhat stereotypical.   It was at that point that I came to understand and empathize with Ruby’s mother. I admit that I was impressed with Ruby's mother as an artist from the beginning when I discovered that she's a surrealist like Frida Kahlo. The characterization was mostly very good.  I was glad to see that the social worker was not depicted as a villain.  She was trying to do the best she could for Ruby based on her perception of the situation.

There was one failing with regard to minority characters. Although I loved the pivotal role played by the Latina character, Manuela, I was disappointed that an Asian character rated just a bare mention.   It isn’t only a matter of keeping score of how minorities are portrayed.    I truly think that Ruby’s brother would have had more depth if the author had chosen to show us his relationship with his Chinese American girlfriend.   I felt that this was a wasted opportunity. 

Still my verdict on the novel as a whole is a positive one.  The Beat On Ruby’s Street provides a fresh perspective on a much maligned decade.  The poets, artists and musicians of the Beat Movement represented in this novel were the counter-culture of the 1950’s.  People like Ruby and her family fought the dominant message of conformity.  It’s important that they be remembered.  I really appreciated the inclusion of a bibliography containing some works of the Beat poets, and histories of the movement.

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A Couple of Research  Notes

When Ruby sang "We Shall Overcome"  as a protest song, I wondered about the history of this song in the protest movement.  I found a wonderful page History of "We Shall Overcome" at the Kennedy Center website.

 I also found a piece that author Jenna Zark wrote about The Beat On Ruby Street  in a spiritual context at  The Beat On Ruby Street at TC Jewfolk


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