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From The Asian Reporter, V17, #10 (March 6, 2007), page 15.

Growing older

Stranger in the Mirror
By Allen Say
Houghton Mifflin, 1995
Hardcover, 32 pages, $16.95

By Josephine Bridges

Weíre not exactly sure whatís happened to Samís Grandpa, but Sam misses "hearing the raspy voice and the shuffling of slippers." He remembers Grandpaís waving goodbye. "I donít want to get old," Sam thinks, but the next morning thereís "a stranger with white hair and a wrinkled face" looking back at him from the mirror in the hall.

Samís mother and father think that medical attention is in order. Dr. Chang diagnoses "Idiopathic dermal development." Dr. Bloom suggests, "Wait and see would be the prudent course for now." Dr. Chang sees "no reason why he cannot attend school."

At school, things go from bad to worse. Friends tease him. Teachers stare at him. Then at bedtime his sister asks him if heís going to move downstairs: "Grandpaís roomís down there."

When a skateboard comes tumbling through the air just as heís about to run away from home, Sam forgets his troubles and remembers who he really is. "He kick-flipped and heel-flipped. He did nose-slides and tail-slides." Even when his sister tells him she put Samís backpack in his room, and he finds it in Grandpaís room instead, he recalls how much fun he had skateboarding and thinks: "Who cares what I look like? Iím Sam. Nobody can change that."

Allen Say is no stranger to blending reality and dream, but in this case, itís reality and nightmare he wants to explore. Sam recognizes that only his appearance has changed. Heís perfectly healthy, still a force to reckon with on a skateboard. But people are treating him differently, and thatís unsettling.

Stranger in the Mirror is a disturbing book, but itís worth the uneasy feelings. Young readers lucky enough to have older people to guide them through this book can learn a great deal about attitudes toward aging from the conversation this story is bound to elicit. Letís face it: growing older is one of the things that ó if weíre lucky ó happens to every one of us. Letís get used to it.

Fortunately, thereís comic relief in this very serious book. Allen Sayís watercolor painting of medical professionals with their stethoscopes, clipboards, and looks that range from quizzical to affronted, is one of his best ever. "Not so fast, little man," says Ms. Hench as she blocks his entry into her classroom. "How do I know youíre really Sam?" Itís exactly the right action for a teacher to take at a moment like that, and we canít help but admire her quick thinking while we hope we never find ourselves in her shoes.

On a day when youíre feeling strong and open-minded, give Stranger in the Mirror a try. It could change you for the better.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon