On My Honor



Book: On My Honor

Author: Marion Dane Bauer

Cover Illustrator: Matthew Archambault

Publisher: Clarion Books, reissued 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1627652858 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 162765285X Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0547722405 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0547722400 Paperback

Language level: 3

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 9 – 12

Rating: *** 3 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers, literary agents, and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

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Bauer, Marion Dane.  On My Honor (published in 1986 by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA; republished in 1987 by Yearling Books, an imprint of Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York City, NY  10036).  Twelve year old Joel Bates lives near Starved Rock State Park in northern Illinois with his parents and four year old younger brother Bobby.  His best friend Tommy Zabrinsky, also twelve years old, lives right across the street with his parents and three older brothers. Tony is a daredevil. It was his idea to make the long bike ride out to Starved Rock to climb the bluffs.  Mr. Bates extends his permission and asks Joel to give his honor that he will not go anywhere except the park.  But then it was also Tony’s idea to stop along the way for a swim in the dangerous Vermillion River.  They had no permission for this.  While swimming, Tony disappears.  Joel hunts and hunts for Tony but can’t find him.  What happens to Tony?  How will people react when they find out?  And why does Joel feel so much guilt?

This 1987 Newbery Honor Book has a couple of curse words which seem almost requisite today to be considered for the award.  There are two ways of looking at the story.  Some view it as a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching tale of a childhood tragedy that impacts, forever, the lives of two families with a deep message concerning unintentional consequences and not giving in to pressure from peers to do something wrong, as well as a powerful lesson of what being “on one’s honor” means.  Others use such words as dark, disturbing, violent, depressing, and even morbid to describe it, saying that it focuses too much on sadness and grief, death and depression, rather than celebrating positive ideals.  One even wrote, “As the father of a son who died through the negligence of other young people, I can definitely say this book is at best confusing to young and old alike, and at worst a tool to desensitize a generation to the dystopia our society has become.”

You can take your pick.  I do not mind good books that help children cope with the subject of death.  I have read several such children’s stories from the early twentieth and even late nineteenth centuries.  While they certainly have their share of sadness and tears, they usually come from a Biblical worldview and offer some sense of hopefulness.  On My Honor doesn’t really have that.  At the end, when Joel asks his dad if he believes in heaven and thinks that Tony is there, all Mr. Bates can say is, “I don’t suppose anybody knows what happens after.”  Another critic asked, “Why would a society want such to move into the minds of our children? They need books that let children enjoy their time as children.”  The best summary comes from a professional reviewer who noted, “This novel offers a harsh lesson about the high price of disobedience and lying. It also demonstrates the power that some kids hold over their peers.”

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