The Barefoot Legend generated more discussion between my husband and me than anything else we have read recently. If you can read between the lines you will have guessed that this means we had differing opinions, not that we haven’t read any other thought-provoking books of late.
The book is set on the streets of Austin, Texas, among a group of homeless teens. The author (a personal friend of ours) was inspired by her experiences with the homeless during her college years at the University of Texas. The book depicts the everyday realities of life on the streets. It also introduces us to Melanie and Ben, UT students who find a book on Love in the library, where they read enigmatic things like, “Love calls things that are not as though they were” (263). Soon afterward, through no design of their own, their lives become intertwined with those of the streets kids, and the combined influences of the book and face-to-face encounters with the homeless lead Ben to make radical choices that affect not only his lifestyle but, potentially, his relationship with Melanie. In the background of all this lurks the threat of a no-camping ordinance under consideration by the city of Austin that would add to the hardships of the homeless .
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of this book is the loving care Minnix has invested in developing realistic characters. The street kids are quirky, endearing, sometimes annoying, almost always believable. B commented that he almost expected to be able to go to Austin and find Pixi, Cougar, Beast, and the rest there. Minnix also excels at dialogue. The exchanges amongst the street kids and between the college students are often witty and sometimes awkward, but only, we sense, by design. The perhaps predictable down side to all this character development and dialogue is that it takes a while for the story line to take shape. But once it does, the plot is engaging.
The principle disagreement between B and I centered around the author’s purpose in writing the book. I maintained that she wanted to raise questions about poverty and an ethical response to it, as well as what it means to be a transformed by Love. B thought the book centered more around the search for meaning and purpose, and he felt the story stopped short of pointing the way to real answers. Or, perhaps more accurately, he was dissatisfied with the wide range of answers readers might infer. [Plot revelation ahead] One of the main characters seems to find purpose in giving up his stable, comfortable lifestyle and joining the street kids. B interpreted this as a message that purpose and meaning in life are found through self-sacrificing love–partially true, but empty if the love and sacrifice are not for God. I, on the other hand, felt this individual’s actions were intended to provoke thought, rather than to serve as a universal model.
B was also concerned that Minnix might appear to be endorsing a philosophy of living by love that excludes divinity, which, based on our personal knowledge of her, we consider unlikely. While I can see his point, my perspective is that Minnix is not proposing an all-encompassing treatise on faith or the meaning of life but, rather, addressing one facet of true, committed faith–a loving response to poverty.
Good literature allows different individuals reading the same thing (or even one individual reading it multiple times) to come away with different impressions and interpretations. Judging by our experience with The Barefoot Legend, Minnix has succeeded in this respect. She proposes no ready solutions to the problem of poverty and homelessness, but she illustrates the principle that true love requires some meaningful response–a point that we both took to heart.
See Gena Minnix and The Barefoot Legend on MySpace: The Barefoot Legend