Reviewed by Marena Galluccio
The Albatross Around the Neck of Albert Ross
by Geoffrey Gatza
Paperback: 134 pages, February 2020, ISBN-13: 978-1944884734
The Albatross Around the Neck of Albert Ross by Geoffrey Gatza is a collection of modern day fairy tales that are each unique and yet have a strand of connectivity between them. I was immediately interested in picking up this anthology of short stories as I was curious to see how Gatza balanced relatable messages in a modern setting that is still filled with magic and imagination. The cover – and its subsequent images inside – seems to convey a message of fun antics in store for readers of all ages. Inside they will find six short stories ranging from a few pages to multiple sections, but more importantly, they will read tales of determination, excitement, and the meaning of family.
The anthology starts off with the story of the book’s namesake. It follows the young Albert Ross as he befriends a wild albatross who let him escape beyond his home. Within his home, Albert’s family is constantly focused, ironically, on other modes of communication: his mother is constantly on her phone, his father is on his computer, and his sister stays in her room with hints that she is communicating to friends via some kind of technology. They are all distracted by these means of escapism and yet they fail to see the truth of Albert and the Albatross. While their technology allows for them to hear about the albatross, they each ignore that he exists beyond their technology. The albatross is a means for escape for Albert and he takes the young boy away from home to meet a family that spends time together and gifts him a decoratively carved rock. Albert is the only one who experiences true escape via the albatross as he experiences what it is like to spend time with a family who is focused on one another. It is not until he comes back and his mother sees him being happy that it begins to change his relationship with his family. We are left with hope that his family members will put down the technology and spend time with him and each other instead of by themselves. Being able to spend time together as a family is the most important escape of all as seen by this story.
Talking about family, we are led into reading “Emory Bennett’s Halloween” which follows a young Emory and his friend Henry. Henry’s mom is going through chemotherapy whereas Emory’s dad is learning how to walk again as an amputee. The boys discuss a riddle about the “one word of human knowledge” that could be death, life, or even recovery before going to a friend’s house to look for a ghost that lives in the attic. While Henry discovers that the ghost is actually a cat and keeps the secret to him and Emory, Henry understands that “sometimes we need our ghosts” in order to move forward. As both Emory and Henry have seen each of their parental figures go through near-death experiences, it only makes sense that in order to live they must focus on recovery and the future. People must understand what haunts them and their personal pasts in order to move forward whether that be away from cancer or losing a loved one like Eliza’s mother. It’s important to understand their grief before they work towards a brighter tomorrow.
In “The Butterflies of Cranberry Chase”, Gatza continues on the individual focus of relationships between children and parents. Crispin and his mother turn into butterflies by a spell put upon them by their neighbor who happens to be a witch. After spending the evening together flying around the witch’s garden, she turns them back into their normal selves. Living the afternoon without its threat of wildlife – like the witch’s pet crow who we later find out is harmless – and potentially being squished makes being a butterfly more exciting and full of life. Gatza addresses the idea of living a life even if afraid that it might be the last day or moment makes life cherished more and those who you spend it with more precious. Life is not truly lived until wings are grown and challenges are taken on with those we love in order to push ourselves.
The longest and last of the stories is “A Rocket Full of Pie” which follows a young rabbit, Freddie, as he is challenged by his uncle to think outside of the box when Freddie has to remember a poem for school. The pair reimagine the familiar nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence” to it being about a rocket full of pie. This whimsical change surprisingly allows Freddie to win the poetry presentation in his class and he later presents it to his family and the school. His usually stern and strict teacher surprisingly becomes the one who truly wants Freddie to challenge what he is taught and look at it from new angles – a lesson useful to all regardless of age.
Gatza’s collection of short stories highlight important ideas such as connecting with family members, living the fullest life, challenging how to think beyond the obvious, and learning how to handle grief. Each of these lessons are truly important for both children and adults alike. What connects each of these stories, however, is the ability to experience each day with someone that readers care about whether that be a family member, a parent, a friend, or a sibling. This anthology has magic and mayhem that increasingly gets more and more whimsical with each passing story that makes it enjoyable for readers, but its heart beats powerfully throughout it all. The Albatross Around the Neck of Albert Ross by Geoffrey Gatza is a moving and playful collection of short stories that will appeal to both children and their parents.