Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Until the end of fourth grade, Winnie was just an ordinary kid, along with her friends. Then her parents got divorced and decided to share her. Equally. This means that she spends three days with her mom, three days with her dad, and one day in the treehouse between their homes. At first, she's fine with this arrangement. The treehouse is especially cool and lots of kids' parents are divorced. But when her parents' competitive nature gets out of control, she finds herself not only miserable but failing fifth grade as well.


With the help of her uncle's advice, Winnie comes up with a solution - live in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses. To her surprise, she's quickly joined by her friends, who have their own grievances with their parents from annoying younger siblings and cousins to not enough phone time. Soon they are the Treehouse Ten and it's a media circus. Then lines are drawn within the treehouse and Winnie finds herself stuck in the middle - AGAIN. It will take some more advice from her uncle and some thought on her own part before she discovers her true strength and solves the difficulties she and her friends face.

This isn't a new plot device; I was reminded vividly of Felice Holman's Blackmail Machine, which involves a group of children trying to save a swamp. Like Winnie's friends, they have to compromise in the end, learning that growing up entails not getting exactly what you want. Graff handles the plot with a deft hand though and the various characters all have strong personalities that shine through, although we don't get to know any of them as well as Winnie.

Although Winnie's situation is over the top - she can't get her homework done because her parents are insistent on celebrating random wacky holidays to prove that they're "more fun" than the other parent - the real root of the problem is that no one is listening to her and her parents are trying to force her to choose sides. The concerns of Winnie and the other children are definitely of a suburban, middle class nature. They are trying to be more independent, to be listened to by their parents, to learn how to negotiate familial and community relationships. There are no concerns about money, none of the children particularly struggle in school, and Winnie's parents are both successful enough that they can afford to purchase a new house to put their wacky plan into motion. The group includes a range of racial diversity but the kids all have roughly the same stable, suburban life.

This may not necessarily resonate with kids whose home life is less stable and who have more immediate concerns and struggles than annoying siblings or obsessed parents. However, it will definitely strike a chord with kids who have the same longing to be more independent and are making that difficult transition into middle school. It's wish-fulfillment with a gentle dose of practical instruction on thinking about what you really want and need, just like Winnie helps her friends realize that, for example, they really want more independence not unlimited time on their phone. The format of the book, short chapters, transcripts, and notes from the different characters, keep the story moving briskly and will attract readers who don't want to tackle a hefty chapter book

Verdict: While not particularly unique in plot, Graff's writing ability and deft touch at characterization as well as the humor and understanding she introduces throughout the book are sure to make this a popular addition to any library. Kids will devour this book with enjoyment and perhaps think a little about their own relationships with their parents afterwards. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780399175008; Published 2017 by Philomel; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

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