The Plot (Without Spoilers): Lucy is a young teenager living in the coastal town of Rockport, Massachusetts, who spends most of her days days hanging out with her best friend Fred. Lucy’s mother was a marine biologist who studied sharks but who unfortunately passed away when Lucy was 7. When their teacher assigns an extra credit project to create an animal field guide, Lucy and Fred begin collecting information about local wildlife and are excited when a local fisherman hauls in a great white shark. An upsetting event adds extra urgency to their field guide project as Lucy finds that her developing interest in sharks connects her with the memory of her mother.
My Take: I really want to give this book 5 out of 5 stars, but I’m going to keep it at 4. Kate Allen is a talented writer who can set a scene in just a few words and also has a great ear for convincing dialogue. Several times throughout the book I found myself thinking, ‘That’s well written.’
My only criticism with this book is that the plot lacks urgency. I get that this is not a page turner and that the story is about moving through grief on our own time table. Still, there is a slow undertow to the 3rd act, which I would forgive if the ending had really build up to a rushing climax. But there is none of that here, which made the story feel a little, well, boring.
I want to be clear though, that for a patient reader, this is in many ways a special book. For those who are looking for fiction to show them how to grieve, I would highly recommend ‘The Line Tender.’
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website bio, when Kate Allen was a child, a magician once told her that she would be an interior decorator.
Title: Here In The Real World
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Publication Date: 2020
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: 11 year old Ware seems to be in for another depressing summer hanging out at the Community Rec Center while his parents are at work. His plans change when he plays hooky and discovers a demoed church lot just over the chain link fence next to the rec center. There he meets a girl named Jolene who is planting a garden next to the church ruins. Ware spends the rest of the summer skipping out on the rec center and adding his own touches to the lot with Jolene. But the impending end of summer and an upcoming auction for the lot may spell the end for their special place.
My Take: I thought that Pennypacker hit a home run with her novel Pax, so I was looking forward to reading this. Here In The Real World does not stand out the way that Pax does, but it is still an enjoyable read. I give credit to Pennypacker for staging the text in the 3rd person point of view. So many middle grade and teen books are written in the first person to capture the self-absorption of youth, that I find it refreshing when a book departs from this. Pennypacker is a deft writer and, while I would not characterize this book as especially plot driven, it did not feel like a slow read to me. She chose to keep the chapters short and punchy and this really drives the story forward. This is especially amazing to me, because this book is heavy on themes of rebirth, renewal, coming to terms with being different, first feelings of love, development of an artist, tension between generations, dealing with unfairness, the need for silence and being alone etc. Somehow Pennypacker guides the reader through all of this and yet the book feels well paced. That’s a pretty incredible feat for a writer.
(Side note: This book really reminded me of My Jasper June, in that it introduced a rugged, carefree character to shake up the protagonist and add to their family.)
Beyond that I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It is a solid addition to middle grade realistic fiction about young people finding themselves – which is really what every tween fiction book is about in the end.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to this interview with Publishers Weekly, when Pennypacker was writing the first Clementine book, she “overheard a conversation in which someone had recalled Carl Jung’s answer to a question. Jung had been asked, ‘Why is there evil in the world?’ And he answered, ‘There’s evil in the world when people can’t tell their stories.'” Frankly, I find this to be an incredibly inspiring quote to base your writing (and reading!) life around!