Sometimes I think realistic middle grade fiction is nothing but an endless list of How-not-to-parent-your-children examples. This is no particular reflection on this particular book, which I liked very much, just that there are sooooo many parents out there in fiction land who Should Know Better. Actually, there appear to be a lot in real life too, the stories I could tell...
Anyways, Calli Gold has the over-scheduled type of parents. All three of their children must have a passion and be doing something constantly. Calli, the youngest, is tired of being pushed into constant activities to find her passion and talent, which she is pretty sure she doesn’t have. She doesn’t feel like part of the Gold family – and sometimes she’s not sure she wants to be.
But then the Gold’s perfect, over-scheduled life starts showing a few cracks. Calli realizes her parents aren’t the perfect, happy, fulfilled people she always thought they were. Her older sister (who is, quite frankly, a nasty person and needs a hefty thwack on the head) turns out to not be the perfect overachiever either (although this doesn’t make her a nicer person) and her older brother shows some unexpected kindness. Calli herself has found something she really cares about; Noah, a second grader who has some issues. Calli is determined to stick with him for their class project no matter what and in the end she discovers that she does have a special and important talent.
I would like to digress here to mention my complete lack of patience with the “they’re going through a phase/growing up is hard” school of excuses for nasty older teen siblings. Just because you are suffering teen angst and you’re related to someone doesn’t mean you can take out your problems on your younger siblings. I actually see this a lot, just observing families. The older kids can call their younger siblings nasty names and poke them or whatever, and the parents just sigh and ignore them. Grr. Ok, digression over.
Every time I thought the story was going to slide into stereotypes, it popped around a corner and surprised me. There are a lot of tropes here that will grab readers; the underdog who is ultimately successful, the kid nobody thinks is important or good at anything who turns out to have a talent, the perfect family that develops some problems and then works through them. Hurwitz’ writing is steady and strong and she develops her characters and situations with enough familiarity to draw kids in and enough plot twists and turns to keep them reading. I look forward to more stories from this debut author!
Verdict: This is different enough from your usual “real girls in school and with their families” middle grade books to add to your collection even if you have a large number of these books. Especially recommended to girls with overachieving parents and older siblings….Recommended!
ISBN: 9780385739702; Published April 2011 by Wendy Lamb; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter; Purchased for the library