Cover image for Giovanni's light : the story of a town where time stopped for Christmas
Giovanni's light : the story of a town where time stopped for Christmas
Theroux, Phyllis.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Scribner's, [2002]

Physical Description:
114 pages : illustrations ; 19 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.7 3.0 66625.
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Ryland Falls wasn't paradise, but there was a certain storybook quality about the town that made visitors catch their breath. As in a book, the order of the stories never changed. On December first, the Chamber of Commerce always hung out the "Yuletide Greetings" banners, the plastic Santa Claus went back on the top of the firehouse roof, and grumpy Diane at Elwood's Market started wearing her set of imitation reindeer antlers.Yet on this particular Christmas, there were signs that the order of things would change. And when it did, the people in Ryland Falls never celebrated Christmas the same way again.The Christmas spirit is alive and well in this inspiring story about the redeeming power of the imagination and the true nature of compassion.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Nothing evokes Christmas like a good old-fashioned holiday yarn. Theroux's tribute to the Yuletide spirit takes place in the seemingly idyllic town of Ryland Falls, which, despite its storybook perfection, contains more than the requisite number of cracked hearts. As the twenty-fifth of December approaches, no one can seem to muster up the usual Christmas spirit. Christmas merchandise languishes on store shelves and carols remain unsung. Taking the village by surprise, a harsh blizzard strands natives and visitors with nothing but the promise of a miracle to keep them warm. On a dark Christmas night, lives are permanently altered as an emotionally neglected little boy, an aloof father, a bored adolescent, a spiritually undernourished artist, and a retired schoolteacher are drawn by the light of a bonfire kindled by a lonely mountain man. This heartwarming little fable will appeal to Christmas enthusiasts of all ages. Margaret Flanagan

Publisher's Weekly Review

A pre-Christmas blizzard alters the emotional and physical landscape of the idyllic village of Ryland Falls in this well-crafted holiday parable. Theroux (Serefina Under the Circumstances) introduces characters at a sprightly pace throughout the brief book, but there are three central figures: Giovanni, a mountain recluse who ventures into town once a year to sell Christmas trees; a frustrated part-time art teacher named Will Campbell; and plucky 11-year-old Miranda Bridgeman, who wants to be a writer. The event that unites them is the snowstorm, which begins by providing some Yuletide ambience before turning into an epic event that buries the town and leaves everyone without power. The residents must reform their rather blas approach to the holidays as they unite to help one another through the tough weather. Theroux gets syrupy with some of the village background and character introductions, but she makes up for the treacle with a nice sense of pace as she weaves together different layers of the story. She also shows a light touch with the various uplifting messages encapsulated in the subplots. Too many writers have to resort to miracles and angels to create their holiday magic, but Theroux wisely relies on the basics of human interaction to deliver her message in this nostalgic, illuminating fable. Illus. (Nov.) Forecast: Blurbs from heavy hitters like Cokie Roberts and Michael Korda will have more influence on sales than the rather bland cover art. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Ryland Falls, population thirty-five hundred, was a town that didn't look quite real. With its quiet, tree-shaded streets, old-fashioned clapboard houses with wraparound porches, and lawns thick with fireflies on summer evenings, it made people sigh and imagine happy things that had never happened to them. There were vacant lots full of buttercups and Queen Anne's lace, a creek with frogs and large, flat stones for sitting. Children rode their bicycles downtown for ice cream. Everybody knew everybody else's name. City people called Ryland Falls a backwater, and it's true that not a lot happened here from one year to the next. But in spring, the pear trees along Center Street sent drifts of white petals into air that smelled of fresh grass clippings. In summer, willows formed a soft green drizzle of branches around the pond. And when the air grew cold, the maples on top of Cemetery Hill burst into flame and burned for long blue days before dropping their leaves like a bright tablecloth upon the graves. In the distance was a mountain. Old Rag was as wild and trackless as Ryland Falls was orderly and refined, and the townspeople didn't spend much time there, except on the road that cut across the top of it. But it gave the town a picturesque backdrop and protected it from the noise and confusion of the big city on the other side. Ryland Falls had its share of sad people, lonely people, and impatient people, like Miranda Bridgeman, who thought it was the dullest place on earth, and she couldn't wait until she was old enough to leave. Every house had its own private cup of sorrow, although some were fuller than others, and no mountain was large enough to keep out the demands of time. The demands had built up slowly, over many years, so that nobody really noticed how much faster the pace of life had become. But a town that looked sleepy was, in fact, full of people who had to wake up earlier and earlier to keep up with their own lives. By 6:15 A.M., half the newspapers were already snatched up off the sidewalks. By 6:45, Reverend Williams was on his second cup of coffee and going over his day's calendar, which usually had three hospital visits and a meeting before lunchtime. And by 7:15, the school bus was rumbling down Center Street, full of children still brushing toast crumbs off their lips, on the way to school. Like every other place on earth, Ryland Falls was full of busy people who had too much to do. But that was the price of modern life and nobody complained. Then, too, living in Ryland Falls made the faster pace easy to ignore. The librarian automatically renewed your overdue books, the postman would add a stamp from his own pocket if there wasn't enough postage on a letter, and if somebody left the car lights on by mistake, somebody else would knock on the front door with the news. Ryland Falls wasn't paradise, but it didn't take long for newcomers to realize that most people went out of their way to be kind. And there was a certain golden quality about the town -- the way the light dusted the shop windows, threaded its way down back alleys, and lit up a stand of daylilies stretching their necks like trumpets toward the sun -- that made visitors catch their breath and say, "Oh, my goodness! I didn't know that places like this existed except in storybooks!" As in a book, the order of the stories never changed. On December 1, the Chamber of Commerce always hung out the "Yuletide Greetings" banners from all the downtown lampposts. The inflatable plastic Santa Claus went back on top of the firehouse roof, and grumpy Diane started wearing her set of imitation reindeer antlers behind the counter at Elwood's Market. "Happy holidays," she would say glumly as she handed a customer change. "My brother died last month." "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." "Thanks, and my aunt died the month before that." "Goodness, you've been having quite a time. I hope you feel better soon." "I'm trying but I was up half the night coughing." Grumpy Diane could be counted on to come up with these kinds of sinking remarks, but most people let them roll right off the counter. They knew what to expect, which was one of the reasons why Ryland Falls was such a pleasant place to live. You knew what to expect from everything. Even Christmas. The gingerbread-house contest was always announced right after Thanksgiving. Next, the tickets for the house tour and Christmas tea went on sale. Then came the annual Messiah community sing-along. On Christmas Eve, people gathered in front of All Saints Church while the children chosen to be in the "Living Nativity" scene shivered for a holy cause in a plywood manger. And on Christmas night, almost everybody -- with one sad and glaring exception -- took their children to Cemetery Hill for a town sledding party. Almost everything that happened in Ryland Falls was a repetition of something that had taken place last year, or a hundred years ago. That was part of its charm. But on this particular Christmas, there were signs that the usual order of things was going to be disturbed. They weren't very large signs, at least not in the beginning. But even if they had been, most of the people in Ryland Falls would have been too busy with their own lives to notice. Copyright © 2002 by Phyllis Theroux Chapter Two On the morning of December 1, Ryland Falls lay nestled like a toy village at the foot of Old Rag Mountain. A hard coat of frost covered all the streets and gardens. Fish hung motionless beneath a lid of ice upon the pond. Trees that in the summertime were thick with leaves thrust their bare arms into the winter sky and froze against it. Nothing moved, including the townspeople, who were still dreaming deep beneath their quilts and blankets -- except for Neddie Crimmins. On the third floor, in a large, toy-filled room in the biggest house in Ryland Falls, eight-year-old Neddie was wide-awake and staring at the ceiling above his bed. He was trying to imagine the expression on his father's face, but he couldn't get it quite right. Shock? Astonishment? He blinked his eyes and stared some more. Neddie's father, Edward Benchley Crimmins, had made his fortune in clocks -- all different kinds of clocks -- and the Crimmins Clock Tower at the foot of Center Street was the town's tallest and most impressive monument. Every hour on the hour it reminded people in solemn, deep-throated tones of two things -- that time was a serious matter and that Edward Crimmins had made the most of it. Edward Crimmins was rarely home. With factories around the world, he spent most of his time traveling between them. Today, however, was an exception. He was not only home, but in a stroke of luck that didn't usually come Neddie's way, he was coming to Open House at Neddie's school. Neddie had a surprise for him. One of his drawings, of a chair that could fly, had won the school's first prize. Neddie was a dreamer who liked to imagine things he had never seen: jet-propelled sleds, portable wings, and magic carpets that could whisk him around the world, like his father's private jet, in the blink of an eye. This habit of dreaminess worried Edward Crimmins, who saw it as a lack of focus that would make it harder for Neddie to succeed in later life. "He's got to branch out a little," he told Neddie's mother, "take some interest in a few more activities. What about soccer?" Olivia Crimmins sighed. "He hates soccer." "Well, then, something! Maybe next summer he could go to a computer camp. Or get into a Scouting program." Edward Crimmins wanted Neddie to be more of a regular boy and didn't think that bending over an art tablet drawing magic carpets was the way. Last night, he had stuck his head into Neddie's room at bedtime and found him sitting cross-legged on his bed with a pad of paper across his knees. "Mind if I have a look?" he asked. Neddie handed him a half-finished drawing of a dragon. "As dragons go, I'd say it's a pretty good likeness. Is it part of a school project?" "No," said Neddie. "I'm just practicing. Mr. Campbell said artists have to keep practicing." Edward Crimmins handed the drawing back. "In a perfect world, Neddie, I'd say keep on with it. But I have to tell you, there's no real future in being an artist, unless you've got somebody else to pay the bills." Neddie's face fell. Edward Crimmins loved his son and didn't want to hurt his feelings so he tried to soften the truth a little. Laying his hand on Neddie's shoulder he used a gentler voice. "I don't have anything against art, Neddie. Lord knows we need our van Goghs and Michelangelos. And you've got some talent. No question about it. But someday you'll be a grown man, with all the responsibilities that come along with age, and now's the only time you've got to prepare for the rest of your life." Edward Crimmins looked around his son's room. The shelves were filled with books, toys, and board games. A collection of handmade silk kites was suspended from the ceiling. Circus posters hung on the walls. And everywhere -- dangling off the window seat, clumped together on a chair, or surrounding him on his bed -- was Neddie's ragtag army of stuffed animals. It was the privileged sanctuary of a child who lived more in his imagination than in the real world, and Edward Crimmins didn't know how to bridge the gap. He decided to take a different tack. "There are other ways to use your talent, Neddie, and still be pointed in the direction you want to go. You can use computers to draw, just like you're doing with a pen, only better. Computers are the big excitement now, and it's where you need to spend your time -- to save time." Neddie's father was always talking about saving time, as if it were a ball of string and the more you had the more you could tie things up with it. "Why, do you know," he continued, "you can look up anything on the Web -- " "I know that, Dad," said Neddie, interrupting. " -- like ink gel pens, and -- whomp! -- up comes five hundred places on the screen where you can find them -- just like that!" Neddie stared down at the ink gel pen in his hand. "But I already have some," he said quietly. Edward Crimmins sighed, his patience almost gone. "You're missing my point, Son. It's not about pens, it's about computers helping kids to stay on top of down the road, in the future, you can get a good job, like mine, Neddie boy!" This was how the conversation always ended between Neddie and his father -- with Neddie's future, as if that were all that mattered. But the furthest Neddie could think was the Open House tonight. He refocused his eyes upon the ceiling and imagined his father standing in front of his drawing. "What!" Edward Crimmins would exclaim when he saw the bright blue satin ribbon hanging next to it. He would push his glasses up the bridge of his nose, the way he did whenever he got excited, and say, "Neddie my boy, how long has this been going on -- under my own roof?" No, first he would whisper into Neddie's mother's ear, "I'm floored, Olivia. I'm floored." That was one of his favorite expressions. Then, and this was the part that filled Neddie's rib cage with butterflies, he would wrap his arm around Neddie's shoulder, pull him to his side, and say to Neddie's art teacher in a loud, proud voice that everyone could hear, "Tell me, Mr. Campbell, how is it possible that someone who is only eight years old could be producing work that is so advanced?" Edward Benchley Crimmins had no time for art. But today was the day that Neddie Crimmins was going to change his mind. His imagination drifted down the wide, polished stairs and into his parents' bedroom, where they were still asleep. When his father was home, it was like finding the last piece in the puzzle. When you pressed the last piece into the middle of the picture, all the other pieces fit tightly against each other. Downtown, the clock tower struck the hour. Neddie counted the chimes. It was only 5 A.M. Sitting up in bed, he looked out the window. Everything outside was moon-colored, except for Old Rag, whose flanks were dark against the sky. Suddenly a pinprick of light flashed halfway up the mountain. Someone else was awake, too. Copyright © 2002 by Phyllis Theroux Chapter Three Giovanni woke up and rubbed his beard, which is what he did when he wanted to remember something. Pushing Max like a warm quilt to the foot of the bed, he dressed quickly and walked into the kitchen. It was still dark out, but through the window he could see that the ground was still bare. How strange, he thought. There was always snow on the mountain by December 1. But this year, even though the creek had frozen and the woods were full of frost ferns, the snow had not come. He lit a lantern and set it on the widow ledge next to his portable radio. He would need to take that with him. The alarm clicked on. "Goood morning," sang out the announcer, "it's five A.M. and going to be another cold one. The temperature..." Giovanni reached up and turned the radio off. Everything he needed to know about the temperature, he could see in his own breath. He fed a log into the woodstove to warm up the room and began to fill up an empty box upon the table with supplies. Max's head pressed against his knee and Giovanni looked down at him and smiled. "You don't want me to forget to put something in for you, do you?" Reaching down beneath the table, he took an almost empty sack of dog biscuits and tossed it into the box. More dog food for Max was on his mental list of things he needed to buy in town. Giovanni was the last remaining member of a mountain family that had lived on Old Rag as long as anybody could remember. They were blacksmiths, roofers, handymen, and housecleaners -- people who left school early and slipped in and out of Ryland Falls to earn a living but always returned to the mountain by nightfall. Giovanni's cabin sat upon land that had been passed down from one generation to another until, finally, no one else was left to inherit it. One by one, they had died or been softened by thoughts of civilization and left. It was a hard but independent life. There was no electricity, no running water, and no heat or cooking range except for the woodstove. But there was a well behind the house, and a vegetable garden provided Giovanni with most of the food he ate. And whenever he needed something he couldn't make himself, he paid a visit to Ryland Falls' town dump. It always amazed him what people threw away. Once he'd found an old front door and a barbershop chair that he'd turned into a table he could pump up and down with his foot. The goggle-shaped window above the sink had been a windshield. Most of the tools hanging in the makeshift forge behind the cabin had come from salvaged car parts of high-quality steel thrown out by auto dealers after a recall. But the best, most high-quality thing he had ever found at the town dump was Max. He had been barely a month old when Giovanni had seen him walking unsteadily toward him over a pile of rubbish -- a trembling, pitiful-looking puppy with stick-out ribs and sad, licorice-colored eyes. Giovanni was shy around people. But there wasn't a fox, deer, or jackrabbit within a mile of his cabin that he didn't speak to as if it were an old friend. When he saw Max, he knew just what to do. He stood still and waited. When Max reached Giovanni's side, he was too weak to do anything more than lean against his legs, exhausted. Kneeling down to pat his head, Giovanni examined his rough, tricolor coat. He was probably a German shepherd-retriever mix. "Hey, little fella," he murmured. "Where's your collar? How'd you get here?" But Giovanni knew the answer to that one. Somebody had abandoned Max at the dump as carelessly as an old suitcase. Giovanni had been alone for a long time. Though Lucia had died twenty years ago, he could still see her sitting on the porch steps, balancing little Carlo on her knee while she shelled peas for supper. It had been ten years since Carlo had left to join the army, and seven since a pale young officer about Carlo's age had mounted the same porch steps and knocked upon the door to tell Giovanni that his son was dead. Giovanni had grown too old and taciturn to want to be anybody's husband now. And the rage and grief he had felt over Carlo's death -- so senseless that for years he couldn't think about it without feeling sharp pains in his heart -- had finally turned into resignation, the resignation into calm. Sorrow had hollowed out Giovanni like a gourd, and the emptiness inside was not unpleasant. But the way Max leaned against his legs like a last resort turned his mind in a new direction. Well, Giovanni thought, perhaps it's meant to be. Gently gathering up the puppy in one hand, he unbuttoned his jacket with the other and slipped him inside. Max gave a little shudder and lay quietly against Giovanni's chest. "Never mind," he said, patting Max through his jacket like a baby in a blanket, "you're home now." From that day on, Max had been Giovanni's constant companion, running just ahead of him as he gathered wood, picked berries, and planted tree seedlings. Giovanni knew how to live off the land better than anyone else around. But some things, such as coffee, kerosene, and the occasional dog biscuit for Max, required money. For that, Giovanni had his Christmas trees. Growing Christmas trees suited Giovanni's solitary, observant nature. The ground beneath the trees had to be kept constantly cropped to prevent diseases. In the spring and fall, he trimmed up the branches so they would grow into the graceful shapes that people in Ryland Falls wanted. Then, as winter approached, he would walk between fragrant rows of Scotch pine, blue spruce, and Douglas fir and tie ribbons around the ones that were mature enough to cut down. All last week, Giovanni had worked well into the night cutting, hauling, and loading the trees upon his truck. His back ached and his mind rebelled against the trip that lay ahead, but it was time to go. Picking up the box of provisions, he stepped outside onto the porch and drew a deep breath as if to take the mountain with him in his lungs. Locking the door, he called to Max, "Come on, boy, we're ready." In truth, Giovanni was never ready to leave the mountain. He loved everything about it -- how the birds formed a wreath of song around the roof in the early morning, the sound of the melting creek tumbling over the rocks in the spring, the way the wind bent the treetops during a storm. The face of Old Rag was constantly changing its expressions, and Giovanni hated to miss any one of them. But three weeks of camping out in Ryland Falls made it possible for him to live on the mountain the rest of the year. Walking toward the truck, he mentally ticked off everything that should be loaded on it: army tent, portable woodstove, firewood, cot, bedding. All there. Radio. Yes. Then he remembered something he had left behind. Letting himself back into the cabin, he walked over to his bed and picked up a large, tattered book on the bedside table and tucked it under his arm. He never left it behind. Climbing back into the truck, he put the engine in gear and headed down the mountain. When Giovanni reached Ryland Falls, the Crimmins Clock Tower had just chimed six o'clock. He drove past the inn, the police station, the library, and several blocks of stores -- the Whistle Stop Ice Cream Parlour, Workout Wonder Gym, Shear Power Hair Salon, First National Bank. It was always a shock to Giovanni when he returned to civilization. On the mountain, Giovanni's days were regulated by heat and cold, light and darkness. Off the mountain, these things were taken care of, and the standards of measurement were full and empty, fast and slow. Giovanni gripped the wheel and stared straight ahead. At the far end of Center Street was Elwood's Market. Next to Elwood's was a vacant lot where every year Giovanni sold his trees. He pulled to a stop. Max jumped out of the truck, did a brief patrol of the lot, then followed Giovanni as he set up camp with a woodsman's efficiency. First he erected the army tent. Next, he put together the woodstove and fit the stovepipe through a flap in the center of the canvas roof. Then he got a fire going and arranged his cot and provisions along the walls. Outside, it was below freezing, but soon the inside of his tent was as warm and cozy as his mountain cabin. Then Giovanni unloaded his trees, their branches rustling like silk as he pulled them off the truck. Nobody could ask for trees that were fresher or more gracefully shaped, and as he arranged them all by height and kind in orderly rows upon the lot, he began to cheer up. The smell of pine sap, mingled with the wood smoke from his stove, made him feel as if he were back on the mountain. By seven-thirty, everything was in place. Pulling a wooden chair across the entrance of the tent so the stove would warm his back, he sat down to rest and survey the small mock forest in front of him. Max laid his head upon his knee and looked up at him reproachfully. Giovanni smiled. "You want to go home, too, don't you? Well, we'll be back by Christmas...maybe sooner." Giovanni cast his eyes toward the sky and tried to decide whether it had the look of snow. A little snow on the branches always made his trees sell better. But he wasn't worried. Every one of them was a beauty and Giovanni knew he would sell them all. Meanwhile, in a second-floor apartment above Elwood's Market, a tall young man with rumpled hair stood at the window and looked down at the man and the dog. His pale, appraising eyes took in the whole scene: the woodsman in his rough coat, the light cast by the open stove door upon the inside of the tent, the gentle line of the dog's mouth as he rested his head upon the woodsman's knee. Will Campbell was a painter. Automatically, he noticed these kinds of details and put a frame around them. But the scene did not inspire him to paint. He shivered. He had promised himself that he would come to a decision by Christmas, and Giovanni's trees reminded him that Christmas was almost here. Copyright © 2002 by Phyllis Theroux Excerpted from Giovanni's Light: The Story of a Town Where Time Stopped for Christmas by Phyllis Theroux All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.