Some books are hard to read. They are not difficult to read because of the vocabulary or syntax, but because of the subject matter. Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde is one of those books I have found hard to read and hard to stop reading. It was nominated for the Books Sandwiched In book review series for the fall of 2017, but it was tabled at the nomination meeting because copies of the book were not readily available from the library for members of the committee or the reading public at large.
Take Me With You has been re-nominated for consideration for the spring 2018 Books Sandwiched In series at the Central Library since copies are now available. I had the book on my reserve list and it arrived at my library just before the spring nomination meeting.
August Schroeder, a high school science teacher in San Diego, takes his dog Woody on a long summer trip in an RV, planning to go to Yellowstone. Unfortunately, his RV breaks down before August gets out of California. Wes is the tow truck driver and mechanic who takes August and his RV in for repairs. August has budgeted carefully for his trip and has not counted on the extra cost for repairs, especially so early in the journey.
The repairs take several days, so August remains on the grounds living in the RV while waiting or Wes to complete the work. Wes has two sons, Seth, 12, and Henry, 7. The boys’ mother has left some time ago. Wes makes several abortive attempts to ask August something important, but keeps backing away. Finally, August tells Wes to spit it out and let the chips fall where they may. August has told Wes that the trip to Yellowstone is important to him, but that he will not be able to make the trip since the repairs will use up money earmarked for the trip.
Wes offers to complete the repairs free including any parts if August will take Seth and Henry on the trip with him. Finally, Wes explains that he will be spending three months in jail and that he has no one to take care of the boys. If August will take them on the trip, Wes can complete his time and be ready to take the boys back in September before school resumes. Wes will go to jail for drunk driving, not his first offence or his first jail stay. Previously, the boys have stayed with their aunt who tells Wes she will not keep the boys again, thinking he will stay sober. Twice, the boys have gone to foster care. The last time, Henry returned home mute although Wes suspects Henry whispers to Seth.
At first, August is reluctant to take on two young boys, but the more he thinks about the situation, the more he decides that he can care for the boys for the summer. The story becomes more complicated when readers learn that August is going to Yellowstone to spread some of his son Philip’s ashes there. Philip, 19, died two years ago when he was riding to the grocery store with his mother and their car was broadsided by a driver who ran a red light.
Maggie, August’s now ex-wife, had been drinking when the accident occurred, but she was not over the legal limit, and she was not at fault in the accident. Philip’s death causes very different reactions in his parents. His mother continues to drink while August stops drinking and begins attending AA meetings.
Seth overcompensates for his father’s alcoholism and lack of parenting by trying to be overly responsible, especially in caring for Henry. Children of alcoholic parents often become very responsible or very irresponsible. Perhaps because Seth knows Henry needs some stability, Seth becomes responsible, even when he was only seven and Henry was two.
Seth discovers that August attends AA meetings because August has planned for the meetings even before he left San Diego. Seth then asks to attend a meeting with August. August finds an open meeting so that Seth can attend to learn about alcoholism; that’s when Seth starts planning an intervention to hold with Wes upon their return at the end of the summer.
Seth and Henry are good companions; they do everything they can to make August glad he has taken them along. The boys have never been more than fifty miles from their own home, so they are intrigued by the travels. August is a good host and the four of them, August, Woody, Seth, and Henry, gradually become more comfortable with one another. Of course, Woody cheerfully accepts the children as his new playmates from the start.
The trip certainly becomes important to all. August feels Wes has betrayed him because August learns the jail sentence will not end in September in time for the boys to start school. It will end in December, after Christmas. Wes has lied about the number of times he has been jailed as well. These lies leave August feeling a bit bewildered. By now, he cares deeply for Seth and Henry and does not want to see them go into foster care again. The three agree that the boys will live with August go to school in San Diego until their father’s release at the end of December.
Shortly before the trip ends, however, Wes delivers important news: he will be released in September after all and will wear an ankle bracelet restricting him to his property until the end of December. The boys and August are crushed. August knows he can do nothing more than leave the boys with their father despite also knowing Wes will resume drinking as soon as he can and by whatever method he can.
Take Me With You is a moving story. Sadly, August cannot take Wes’ children home to San Diego. Although they promise to keep in touch, the calls are infrequent and then almost stop until Seth is in college and Henry is fifteen. In the eight years between the lifetime trip to Yellowstone and other parks, Wes has continued to drink, frequently staying out all night as he used to do. August has also undergone serious changes; he has developed distal muscular dystrophy which causes him to tire easily. In addition, he has trouble walking and has begun using two canes, knowing the disease will progress into more serious disabilities over time.
This time, Seth and Henry rescue August and Woody, taking them on a summer trip in the old RV. The boys become August’s caretakers, helping him in and out of the RV and making sure he is comfortable as they revisit some parks from their previous trip. What August does not know is that the boys have a big surprise planned for the end of the trip.
Take Me With You is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story. Kirkus Reviews calls Take Me With You “a story about good people doing their best to survive, combined with a message that will cause readers to close the book feeling a bit more hopeful about humanity.”
Catherine Ryan Hyde has written over thirty books. She is an enthusiastic hiker which explains August’s passion for hiking, a love which he passes along to Seth and Henry as they trek through national parks. August does not realize that he is also creating a lifelong desire in Seth to climb mountains. Seth continues the training he begins on the trip with August and learns all he can about being a mountain climber, much to August’s consternation when they take the second trip together eight years later.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Web site: www.catherineryanhyde.com.
She also writes a blog at http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/blog/2017/9/1/uk-german-and-australian-readers-september-is-your-month.