Podcast Review #118: Babcock

Title: Babcock
Author: Joe Cottonwood
Genre: non genre young adult fiction
Released: 26 August 2009 – 27 September 2009
Located: Podiobooks, iTunes
Formats Available: podcast (and a very expensive paperback at Amazon)
Rating: PG-13 for Young Adult content matter

Quite a while back I reviewed Joe Cottonwood’s Clearheart. I enjoyed it, though it has none of the elements of speculative fiction that I normally find myself gravitating towards. Recently, I wanted something light, not too long and perhaps a bit mellow. I found Babcock on the Staff Picks section of Podiobooks and decided to give it a try.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: A fat boy with the blues. A skinny girl who runs marathons. And a con man on the lam. If you liked Clear Heart, or if you liked Boone Barnaby, you’ll like this one, too. The themes are a bit more grown up than Boone Barnaby, but it’s still family-friendly for reading. For any age it’s my brand of writing: humane, down to earth, good-natured, sometimes funny and sometimes sad.

Babcock plays electric guitar. He’s writing songs – and trying to figure out the true meaning of rock and roll – but he keeps coming up with the blues. Babcock is trying to start a friendship with a girl, Kirsten, who is as different as can be: Kirsten is skinny; she hates insects. And she’s white. Babcock is fat; he speaks to dragonflies. And he’s black.

In some ways Kirsten is like a dragonfly: quick and bright. She never walks; she runs everywhere. Her family has money. Her mother thinks Babcock is a little too “rough.” Opposites attract. But can they make music?

Babcock’s family is struggling for money. Then Babcock’s Uncle Earl moves in – and he moves into Babcock’s bedroom with Babcock’s menagerie of animals (including Martin Luther Kingsnake.). Uncle Earl is a con man on the lam. Uncle Earl used to play drums for Chuck Berry. Babcock wants to be Chuck Berry. Uncle Earl wants to coach a Little League baseball team – as a “business venture.” Babcock hates baseball. Babcock wants to learn “charm” from Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl wants to learn how to live a normal life and marry a normal woman – who happens to be Babcock’s schoolteacher. Maybe Babcock and Uncle Earl have something to teach each other.

Babcock’s father runs a car repair shop. At night, in the kitchen, he draws cartoons. Some day he wants to quit repairing cars and sell his cartoons. But nobody’s buying.

Kirsten is hotheaded. Sometimes she needs protection – from herself. Her mother tries to protect her – from Babcock. For help with his problems Babcock goes to an unlikely source: his Uncle Earl, the man with good charm and bad behavior. But the biggest lessons from Uncle Earl – and, perhaps, from rock and roll – are not what anyone expected.

In short, it’s about character. About making music. About family, hard work, about love and loss. Sometimes there’s laughter. Sometimes the lights are off in the kitchen; papa’s got blues. But always life is rich and deeply moving… (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: The production of both of the books I’ve listened to by Mr. Cottonwood are bare on frills, but high on value. There isn’t a lot of extras going on here, but what there is, is good quality recordings and an interesting premise where characters in the book are writing songs and you will hear parts of those songs sung between chapters. I enjoyed this approach and found it worked very well for this story.

Grade: B+

Cast: The author is joined by a small cast of voices in making Babcock come to life. Listeners of Clearheart will recognize at least one female voice although there may be more that were in both. My favorite character voice was the actress voicing Kirsten. Yes, the name was stated. No, I don’t remember her name. If you know, let me know and I’ll update the review. All the voices were done separately, or at least it sounds that way, but most of them sound pretty good none the less.

Grade: B

Story: Babcock is the story of all of us at one or another point in our life. It happened to us, or someone we knew. Perhaps we just heard about it happening to someone else. It is a slice of everyday life with all the anger, bitterness, humor and love that we have all experienced. In this case, it happens to a 13 year old boy named Babcock that lives in the town of San Puerco (Saint Pig? If there really is a San Puerco is CA, someday, I’m moving there). But it could have happened in my hometown, or maybe yours.

Grade: A+

Verdict: It has been a long time since I’ve heard a non speculative fiction story that I have enjoyed as much as I enjoyed this one. Throw into the mix that it is a young adult title that I could share with my eldest child and I can only say, listen. Especially if you have a young awkward teen around the house. Listen. Even if you don’t. Listen.

Disclosure: I don’t believe Mr. Cottonwood is on Twitter. If he is, I’ve never seen a mention or a tweet from him. I wasn’t offered anything, not even a broken down MG given “as is”, in return for this review.

Comment Pages

There are 8 Comments to "Podcast Review #118: Babcock"

  • WNDRWolf says:

    I have listened to this book and I have to agree with the review, although I did enjoy Clearheart more. The elements are the same. Good Character driven story.

    • odin1eye says:

      Thanks for the comment! I have to say, as much as I enjoyed clearheart, something about Babcock just resonated with me. Perhaps it was having a son the same age. Don’t know. Just really enjoyed it.

  • I told my daughter about it for my 9 year old grandson, who seems like a teenager every day…… Joe Cottonwood is not on twitter, but he did respond to my email about Clear Heart. He is a good guy, just like his stories…. Thanks for bringing his work to more people.

    • odin1eye says:

      Hi Arlene! Thanks for the comment. I really don’t usually listen to what I’ll call “general fiction” but Mr. Cottonwood does a nice job on his stories. I think I preferred Babcock to Clearheart for a number of reasons, but in a nutshell, Babcock has a sweetness about it that personifies life in a small town. Not all happy. Not all good. But so very real.

  • TerminusVox says:

    I enjoyed Babcock quite a bit. I can also recommend Boone Barnaby, Clearheart and to a lesser extent Famous Potatoes. The latter has moments of brilliance but is not really as fully realized as a story as the others mentioned (and is NOT safe for your minivan!). As I recall, it is an earlier work than the rest and so it seems the author has gotten better.

    • odin1eye says:

      Like I mentioned, I don’t listen to a lot of “regular” fiction, but I have been impressed with Mr. Cottonwood’s everyday tales. Next time I’m looking for something a little more mundane and grounded, I’ll have to check out Boone Barnaby.

  • Hi odin1eye. The voice of Kirsten was Caroline Graham, who was 14 or 15 years old at the time, a talented young woman. She is now studying drama at the University of New Mexico.
    Babcock is available as an ebook through smashwords.com.
    Thanks for the review!
    And hi to Arlene and Wanderwolf as well!

    • odin1eye says:

      Thanks sir! Great story and thanks for stopping by!

      I guess it’s no wonder she nailed the rebellious 13 year old if she was 14-15 at the time. Regardless she did a great job.

      You touched a cord with me on this one. Thank you.

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