Friday, May 1, 2015

My life in dioramas by Tara Altebrando, illustrated by T. L. Bonaddio

Dear Ms. Altebrando, I really don't like you right now. Gentle readers, cast your minds back to when you were twelve. Who enjoys being twelve? I mean, really, anybody? For the past twenty years, I have successfully put out of my mind that period in my life. With one book, Ms. Altebrando brought it all back to me. I am not grateful.

Just kidding. Well, kind of. Is there such a thing as too well-written?

Kate is devastated when her parents tell her that they're putting Big Red, the huge old house they live in, up for sale. It's the only home she's ever known and she can't imagine living somewhere else, especially when they don't know where they're moving and it might mean leaving her best friends Naveen and Stella and having to drop out of her dance troupe. She starts creating dioramas of her memories in Big Red as well as a campaign to sabotage the sale of the house. But things get more and more complicated and Kate feels like everything is falling apart; is she losing her family and friends as well as her house?

Like Tara Altebrando's first book, The Battle of Darcy Lane, this perfectly captures the growing pains of a pre-teen as she becomes aware of her parents as people, with their own pasts and struggles, faces her own changing friendships and circumstances and starts defining herself. As an adult (with my own issues) I can't say this was an enjoyable read, remembering those miserable growing pains, but as a pre-teen I can see kids absolutely relating to this story and taking comfort from the hopeful ending. It's not all sunshine and flowers, but everything works out more or less. The descriptions of not just Kate's feelings and confusion but also of the house and land she loves and her poignant sadness at moving on to a different part of her life are absolutely pitch-perfect. The fight between Kate and her mom at one point seems to me the best way to describe the book:

"...when you're my age, you'll have maybe a handful of vague memories of what it was like to be twelve."
"That doesn't mean it's not real to me right now!" I was almost screaming. "That it doesn't matter!"

Altebrando's story makes those feelings and growing pains real and shows kids that they do matter and that, while change may be painful and difficult, they will get through it.

The cover doesn't have the glossy appeal of a lot of contemporary realistic fiction, but it does capture the quieter, reflective tone of the book. Most of the interior illustrations were unfinished, but I'm looking forward to seeing the final art, which I think will be a great addition to the book which often focuses on Kate's struggle to capture specific moments and memories as she deals with change.

Verdict: This is the kind of book that I'd recommend to my more thoughtful students, those who enjoy contemporary, realistic fiction and want a character they can relate to. While it may not have the wild circulation of Wimpy Kid and friends, when I'm building a balanced collection and looking for these quieter books Altebrando is becoming my new go-to author. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780762456819; Published May 2015 by Running Press; ARC provided by publisher

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