2016-03-31 / Senior Savvy

Satisfying Coming-of-Age Story

By Florence Archambault

The title of Arliss Ryan’s new novel, “The Coloring Scroll,” is a little misleading. It is not a children’s book: It is the tale of three young siblings and their journey from childhood to adulthood. This is Ryan’s fifth book, but it is actually her first. Written in the early ’80s when she was a resident of Newport, she was never able to get it published. But now, after a rewrite and some tweaking, it is finally seeing the light of day.

Her first book, “The Kingsley House,” was based on incidents in her family’s history. “Sanctuary” includes birding experiences acquired in Newport. The plot of “The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare” maintains that Anne wrote the bulk of Will’s most famous plays. “How (Not) to Have a Perfect Wedding” draws from Ryan’s experiences as an event planner at the Astors’ Beechwood mansion. They are all worth reading.

When “The Coloring Scroll” opens, the three Maxwell children live with their mother, father, and grandmother above the family’s grocery store in an unnamed town in the rural Midwest. The grandmother takes care of them while their parents work in the store. Twelve-year-old Emily Grace is the eldest and an exceptional student. She fosters five-year-old D.S. by reading him the classics after school. Neither of them have much use for their baby brother, three-year-old Critter, who is the favorite of the grownups. D.S. serves as the narrator of the book.

One summer their grandmother presents each of the children with new boxes of crayons and a coloring scroll to be used only on rainy days. The outline on the scroll features a train moving from station to station. The people who populate the stations bear some resemblance to the townspeople they know, and the journey over the scroll has a bearing on the lives of the three siblings. It is only when they have finished coloring the scroll that they realize the train at the final station is the same train that started the trip.

Throughout the book, Ryan uses flashbacks to that rainy summer and the coloring of each section of the scroll. The lessons learned relate to how the children’s lives will unfold as they advance to adulthood.

After Emily Grace reads Lord Byron’s “Manfred” to D.S., he yearns to be a sorcerer so he can dispense with his grandmother and Critter and obtain great riches for his parents and Emily Grace. Critter intends to be a big movie star, and the intellectual Emily Grace is headed to a major in philosophical studies. When she goes off to college at an early age (having skipped two grades in elementary school), the insecure and introverted D.S. is left on his own.

Throughout high school, D.S. takes refuge in his art and earns money to buy a car by drawing portraits of his classmates. During his college years he becomes friends with Alastair, a poet. The two publish and sell small books of Alastair’s poetry with illustrations by D.S., who, following graduation, sets off for San Francisco where Emily Grace has established herself as an editor of rare philosophical books. Meanwhile, Critter, who left home for Hollywood after graduating from high school, launches a successful movie career.

D.S. becomes discouraged when his paintings do not sell until Alastair, who has not been doing too well in New York with his poetry, arrives in San Francisco and convinces D.S. that they should collaborate again. They manage to find a publisher and become very successful. Eventually the books become so popular that D.S.’s art begins to sell.

When the three siblings return home for their father’s funeral, D.S. has become an artist of note in San Francisco, Emily Grace is widely respected by her professional peers, and Critter has an Oscar – proving that dreams do sometimes come true.

“The Coloring Scroll” is a good read; it is well written with an interesting plot. The ending is a bit surprising but, when you think about it, inevitable.

The book is available at Island Books in Wyatt Square in Middletown or on Amazon.

Florence Archambault, of Newport, is 84 years young and well-known for her community volunteerism and teaching and writing family history.

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