“Alone” by Megan E. Freeman

Title: Alone

Author: Megan E. Freeman

Publication: 2021 by Aladin/Simon & Schuster

The Plot: Twelve year old Maddie awakes in her hometown to find that everyone but herself has been evacuated by the government. Alone except for her dog George, Maddie must learn how to survive on her own for months at a time. One of the most challenging parts of her experiences is enduring the longing for family and friends.

My Take: This was a great read. Freeman wastes no time setting up and executing the inciting event that pitches Maddie into her survival challenge. Author Megan E. Freeman presents the story in a spare verse format that retains all of the emotional power while giving the reader only what they need to know about the plot and background. I applaud the tight framing of the character and the story and I won’t give away the ending when I say that I got a lump in my throat. Very much recommended for middle grade readers.

One Interesting Note About The Author: Freeman’s interest in becoming a writer started in elementary school when poets were invited in each week to present to her class.

“The List of Things That Will Not Change” by Stead

List Of Things That Will Not Change book cover

Title: The List of Things That Will Not Change

Author: Rebecca Stead

Publisher: Random House 2020

The Plot: Ten year old Bea’s parents have recently divorced amicably and are now living in separate residences. Her father has come out as gay and will soon be marrying his boyfriend Jesse. While adjusting to these changes, Bea mostly has positive feelings about the upcoming marriage and is especially excited about meeting Jesse’s daughter Sonia who is also 10. As Bea adapts to the changing relationships in her life, she makes several decisions that create discord among her family.

My Take: I found this book to be a strong middle grade realistic fiction read because Rebecca Stead captures the mix of feelings that many children of divorce experience. Instead of having Bea wallowing in hurt and grief over her parents split, Stead chooses the more interesting approach of allowing her to experience joy and excitement over the new lives that her parents are building. I also appreciated how Bea’s character changes in the reader’s mind over the arc of the story. We learn things about how her that make her more interesting. Stead should also be given credit for adeptly handling the issue of a gay parent without making it feel forced or contrived. The author nests the topic of gay marriage within the wider scope of the family and builds the book on believable characters. This credible presentation of a contemporary mixed family prevents “The List of Things That Will Not Change” from becoming simply an ‘issues’ book.

One Interesting Thing About The Author: According to her website, Rebecca Stead’s parents, much like Bea’s, were divorced when she was growing up and had separate residences. No doubt Stead drew on these experiences when writing this book.

“The Island of Dr. Libris” by Chris Grabenstein

The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less:  Billy’s parents are having difficulties in their marriage, so he is spending the summer with his mother in a lakeside cabin while his father stays working in New York City.  But this isn’t any normal cabin; it’s one built by the eccentric Dr. Libris, a scientist/professor who has installed security cameras all over the property.   Even more strange, when Billy begins reading some of the classic books from Dr. Libris’s ornate bookshelf, the books actually come to life on an island out in the lake.  Billy soon finds himself talking to Robin Hood and crossing swords with the 3 Musketeers.   As he unleashes so many classic book characters, Billy must find a way to put a stop to the madness.

My Take:  Having greatly enjoyed Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, I was looking forward to this book.  While I didn’t find it as engrossing Lemoncello’s, I appreciated it for its own merits.  Grabenstein kept the plot moving and at no point did I ever feel that the book slowed down.  I think that kids will enjoy the imaginary dangers on the island as well as getting to know some classic book characters.

One Interesting Note About the Author:   According to his website, Chris co-wrote the movie “The Christmas Gift” starring John Denver which premiered in 1986.  It often still played around Christmas time.