The book Eli the Good by Silas House tells the story of what it’s like to be ten year old Eli Book during the summer of 1976. His father is suffering from PTSD and still experiences flashbacks from Vietnam. His mother tries to ignore things and smooth over the rifts that are occurring in the family. Woven into this family are Eli’s equally troubled aunt, sister, and best friend. His Aunt Nell, who became famous protesting the Vietnam War, has come home to live with her brother’s family while she fights breast cancer. His sister is rebelling against parental control and dealing with the painful knowledge that the dad she has always known is not her biological father. His best friend is Edie, whose parents have just divorced. Although Eli watches his family struggle throughout the book, he struggles as well. Eli’s few sources of comfort can be found in his friendship with Edie, the natural world, and the popular culture.
Despite Eli’s emotional difficulties with his family, he has happy childhood memories with Edie. They would ride their bikes in the woods listening to his transistor radio. Pedaling in the rhythm to the song, letting their bicycles sway and veer across the road along with the weaving music. “We raced and we each rode a stretch without our handlebars, a trick Edie had taught me” (House 14). Eli knew Edie was his best friend. When he said the horrible things to her at the parade, he knew what he had done. “I could feel the betrayal crackling in the air, like the ice of an entire river was breaking all at once” (House 175). Eli was sorry and wanted Edie to forgive him; he knew she would in her own time. There is a constant tension between the beauty of the natural world and the ugliness of the human world, between how things really are and how Eli wishes them to be.
The fact that the story takes place in a rural area makes the residents of the town all the more reluctant to talk about Vietnam in a realistic and open fashion, but also exposes Eli to a great deal of natural wonder.” I straddled my bike and stood listening, watching the trees for signs of birds” (House7). His mother can identify birds by sound and, no matter how harsh the world around him, Eli feels a sense of connection to nature that is healing and sustaining. “It has a good soul,” Edie says of her favorite tree, as if trees can have a personality just as much as people and give comfort (House10). The trees of the town contrast sharply with the trees of the jungle his father wrote about in his letters to his family from Vietnam. After Eli read the first letter, he went to his beech tree on the ridge overlooking their house.” I knelt at the base of the tree and put both my hands against it. Its skin was cool, just as it always was, no matter how hot the weather”