Book Review: Dandelion Wine

Confession time. I had never read a single Ray Bradbury book before this week.

For those of you who are fans of this famous author, feel free to judge me.  I am judging myself.


The crazy thing is, I actually met Ray Bradbury ages ago via a mutual friend. I remember walking through a book store to pick up a paperback before the meeting and grabbing the first title that grabbed my attention with hopes he would sign my copy. Specifically, I purchased Dandelion Wine.  Last week I rediscover the book on my shelf and found an old, yellowing boarding card indicating I would read the book on one of my cross-country flights. (Note the maiden name and white "shadow" where it had been stuck!)Mr. Bradbury signed the front page so I should have at least read the book!And yet, Dandelion Wine has sat on a shelf, unopened for 26 years. Now, having finished the novel, I see how much I missed having this tale in my head.

The story is simply lovely.

Dandelion Wine tells the story of an eventful summer in the life of a 12-year-old boy, Douglas Spaulding. The year is 1928, but the themes of life and loss, of discovery and pain still ring true.

In this particular summer, Douglas realizes he’s alive; really, truly alive.

“The grass whispered under his body. He put his arm down, feeling the sheath of fuzz on it, and, far away, below, his toes creaking in his shoes. The wind sighed over his shelled ears. The world slipped bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like images sparked in a crystal sphere. Flowers were sun and fiery spots of sky strewn through the woodland. Birds flickered like skipped stones across the vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with electric clearness. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head. He heard the twin hearts beating in each ear, the third heart beating in his throat, the two hearts throbbing his wrists, the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores on his body opened. I'm really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don't remember!”

As you might imagine, when a boy discovers he’s alive, every moment takes on a new sense of urgency and meaning.

“It's just...It's just, if I didn't see these windows until today, what else did I miss?”

Douglas’ world in rural Illinois is described by Ray Bradbury with depth and detail which I found utterly delicious. Clearly Bradbury pulls from his childhood experiences and uses his considerable memory and descriptive skills to paint scenes which you can practically see. His characters leap off the page.

For instance:

“The facts about John Huff, aged twelve, are simple and soon stated. He could pathfind more trails than any Choctaw or Cherokee since time began, could leap from the sky like a chimpanzee from a vine, could live underwater two minutes and slide fifty yards downstream from where you last saw him. The baseballs you pitched him he hit in the apple trees, knocking down harvests. He could jump six-foot orchard walls, swing up branches faster and come down, fat with peaches, quicker than anyone else in the gang. He ran laughing. He sat easy. He was not a bully. He was kind. His hair was dark and curly and his teeth were white as cream. He remembered the words to all the cowboy songs and would teach you if you asked. He knew the names of all the wild flowers and when the moon would rise and set and when the tides came in or out. He was, in fact, the only god living in the whole of Green Town, Illinois, during the twentieth century that Douglas Spaulding knew of.”

I love the line, "he ran laughing."  Isn't that exactly what 12-year-old boys do?

Time and again the book celebrates ordinary life in all of its glory. Whether it’s a Grandma making dinner, a visit to the ice cream counter, or pulling weeds, the beauty of simple is evident.

“Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher. Nobody guesses, nobody accuses, nobody knows, but there you are, Plato in the peonies, Socrates force-growing his own hemlock. A man toting a sack of blood manure across his lawn is kin to Atlas letting the world spin easy on his shoulder.”

Overall the book reads like a poem and, as such, it’s not a speedy read with a quick moving plot; it’s something you want to absorb. Think of a sultry summer day in a hammock and you’re closer to how the book flows. In fact, summer is a character in the book, providing more than a setting and actually imparting a flavor.

“Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in”

The characters in Green Town come and go abruptly in the story, but the theme of seasons, friendship, and respect are part of every narrative.

Though it’s taken me close to forever to pick up Bradbury, I’m glad I’ve finally discovered him and that my gateway was this little treasure.