Title: Just Like That
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Publication Info: Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2021
The Plot: In the summer of 1968, in the wake of a tragedy, the parents of Meryl Lee send her to the prestigious boarding school for her 8th grade year. Meanwhile, a homeless boy named Matt, bereft of family and friends, settles into an abandoned cabin near the school property. As Meryl Lee and Matt each struggle to settle into their lives, they find that their paths cross in the most unexpected ways.
My Take: This is very nearly a great book, but due to some minor issues, it will have to remain very good. This was my first reading of any of Schmidt’s books and, after a couple of chapters, I could tell that he was accomplished at his craft. His characters are interesting and draw the reader into their personal stories. I truly wanted Matt and Meryl Lee to find happiness and I found myself getting misty eyed at certain points. Towards the end of the book, the story feels just a touch drawn out. But this is a minor complaint about a wonderful read that is a strong Newbery contender (awards are in 2 days!). I strongly recommend this book to middle grade readers.
One Interesting Note About The Author: I could not find a personal author website for Gary D. Schmidt, which I thought was really cool.
The Plot: Olympia is a twelve year old growing up in early 1980’s in SoHo. Her father, an art restorer, has run off to France with another woman. In response, Olympia’s mother, a sculptor, has not been out of bed in days. Olympia fills up her summer days hanging out with friends and her dad’s friendly art assistant Apollo. Over time she finds the courage to reach out for help and to begin to piece her family back together.
My Take: This book lacked enough narrative momentum for my taste. I thought that a good deal of it could be trimmed to focus on the disappearance of her father and Olympia’s efforts to help her mother. Her relationships with her friends, their parents, and Apollo takes up most of the book and was a bit of a slog for me. A side trip to an island near the culmination of the story seemed exceptionally unnecessary.
One Interesting Note About The Author: “All the Greys On Greene Street” is Laura Tucker’s first novel.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: The past year has been rough for Leah as her family deals with tragedy and her friendships are changing at school. As the summer begins, she finds that she and her best friend Tess have drifted apart, leaving a hole in her life. Luckily Leah soon meets a curly redhead girl her age named Jasper who is new in town. The girls become instant best friends, but Leah discovers that Jasper’s life is full of hurtful secrets. As each girl grapples with the broken parts of their lives, they realize that being a true friend is neither simple nor easy.
My Take: This book convincingly portrays a friendship between two girls who are each grappling with pain. The story is less of a thrill ride and more of an unfolding of the characters as the reader gets to know each of them. I was most interested in the sense of co-dependency that forms within moments of the girls’ meeting. Each senses in the other something that they are missing and that they desperately need and want. This urge is so powerful that at times they end up hurting the other person. I knew from the start that the friendship between Leah and Jasper would not be smooth, but I definitely enjoyed the bumpy relationship between them. Highly recommended to girls around the age of 11 – 13.
One Interesting Note About The Author: Ms. Snyder lives in Ormewood Park in Atlanta which is the setting for “My Jasper June.”
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Delsie enjoys so many things about her life on Cape Cod: the fishing, the storms that roll in off the ocean, and the close knit community of her small neighborhood. Still, she can’t help but think about her mom who left her years before with her grandmother and what the reasons may have been for this abandonment. Her relationships are also changing as her good friend Brandi begins hanging out with an older, mean girl. Delsie finds companionship with a boy new to the Cape that summer who seems to harbor as much hurt inside himself as she does. As new information comes forth about her mother, Delsie finds that she must choose whether to hold on to pain and resentment or to focus on the smaller blessings in her life.
My Take: I found Shouting At The Rain to be a solid entry in the field of realistic fiction for young readers. As an adult reader, I enjoyed learning about life on Cape Cod and how the ‘Capers’ and the tourist get along. Hunt has a talent for conveying blue collar life without making it overly sentimental or pushing it too far. One character, for example, must move with his family into a campground every summer because their landlord rents their house out to tourists for more money. It’s an indignity that is mentioned only a few times, but it really serves as an example of what Delsie and the people in her community grapple with. I would recommend this book to any younger reader interested in a book on changing friendships and life in the summer.
One Interesting Note About The Author: As she notes on her website, Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s first forays into creative writing were after the passing of her brother, who died shortly before his 4th birthday. She “wrote songs about him for years–songs about when he was alive and songs speculating where he went after he died. I had always imagined him sitting on a cloud watching me.” She admits that not a day goes by when she does not think about him.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: War is approaching and Peter’s father must go off to fight. Before he leaves, he forces Peter to leave his pet fox, Pax, in the woods; it is not welcome at his grandfather’s house where Peter must stay for the time being. After leaving Pax and traveling to his grandfather’s, Peter is wracked by guilt and decides that he must journey to find his fox. Alone in the woods, Pax learns the way of the wild foxes and learns that as the war draws closer, the animals must travel to safety. Both Peter and Pax find themselves on a journey on which they will discover much about themselves.
My Take: I thought that this was an engaging book from the first page. Pennypacker manages to relate the story of a child’s attachment to his pet in a way that is heartfelt but not sentimental. I also appreciated that she portrays realistic fox behavior but also uses a deft amount of anthropomorphism to draw in the reader. The foxes came across as both believable animals and interesting characters. I found that the narrative slowed down a touch when Peter sought refuge at a hermit’s house, but I thought the ending was sheer magic and more than made up for it.
One Interesting Note About The Author: Pennypacker is also the author of the Clementine book series.
Plot: Joey Pigza is a boy who has ADHD. He pulls out his hair, he spins through the hallways at school, and snatches flies out of the air. His home life exacerbates his condition. His father, who is an alcoholic, left when he was in kindergarten and his mother followed right after him. Joey’s grandmother steps in to raise him but, due to her own psychological problems, ends up emotionally abusing him.
When we meet Joey, his mother has returned to raise him, but his behavior continues to deteriorate. Events come to a head when Joey swallows his house key and also, albeit unintentionally, hurts another student with a pair of scissors.
Joey is sent to a special education center across town with children who suffer from sever physical and cognitive disabilities. The question for Joey now is will he be able to pull himself together with the help of medication and return to school?
Personal Reaction: I liked this book because it is written from the point of view of the unreliable narrator Joey. As readers, we understand that we aren’t getting the full story, and yet, through little hints and cues, we can feel the adults’ frustration waft off of the pages. Still, Joey remains a likable character because he does struggle with himself and genuinely wants to get better.
I would recommend this book to ages 9-12. This may be of special interest to children and parents who suffer from ADHD. Published 1998.
Themes: disabilities, social outcast, abandonment, alcoholism, special education