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 Plot: Since the death of Coyote’s mother and two sisters in a car accident 5 years ago, 12 year old Coyote and her dad Rodeo have lived on a repurposed school bus traveling across the country to nowhere in particular. In a long distance phone call with her grandmother, Coyote learns that a park in her hometown is being bulldozed. Years before Coyote and her mom and sisters had buried a memory box in that park. Coyote vows to herself to travel and reclaim the memory box before it disappears underneath the bulldozers shovels. She must hide the true purpose of this cross country trek from Rodeo who cannot face his grief from the past.
My Take: This book suffers from a protracted second act in which we are introduced to a host of supporting characters, each with an accompanying subplot that slows, rather than adds momentum, to the story. At least one of these characters could be removed with no loss of meaning to the book.
I also at times found Coyote’s voice inauthentic due to her tendency to philosophize on life. She muses, for example, at one point that “you could be scared and sad and tough all at the same time, like I didn’t know that you could be a million different things all at the same time. There’s so much sadness in the world. Really, there is.” The author could have trusted the reader to draw these lessons from the story rather than having it told to us with such frequency.
The story picks up in the 3rd and 4th acts as Coyote’s yearning to retrieve the memory box intensifies and Rodeo is forced to wrestle with his grief and his abandonment of his role as a father. Gemeinhart’s strongest writing occurs in the final chapters which put a lump in my throat. I truly felt for Coyote and her father at the end despite the long slog to get to this point. Readers can decide for themselves if it was worth it.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to Dan Gemeinhart’s website, he was a teacher-librarian for 13 years which, in my biased opinion, makes him a pretty awesome person!
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Josh has had his imaginary friend Big Brother since kindergarten. They stayed close and played together until mom lost patience and forced Josh to perform a burial ceremony for Big Brother in the backyard. He hasn’t seen Big Brother since then, but now, entering 5th grade at a new school, Josh’s imaginary friend has returned. At the school a boy named Lucas has noticed Josh and also the strange shadow that follows him, even on cloudy days. Lucas will play an important role as Josh grapples with his new life in 5th grade and the return of Big Brother.
My Take: The strength of this book is how is takes the inner lives of young people seriously. When Josh was younger, Big Brother was mostly a playmate with whom to build LEGO creations. Now as Josh is entering 5th grade, Big Brother serves as that voice to push him out to football games, to go on bike rides with friends, and into the general social scene. Clearly this imaginary friend serves partly as a vehicle for Josh’s growing psyche that is waking up to the world at large. Without revealing any spoilers, Lucas’s imaginary friend serves more as a conduit for the grief and shame from an event many years prior. Nickerson should be given credit for finding a way to explore the anxieties of young people without making it too overwrought or artificial. I found the author’s presentation of the imaginary friends convincing and I never found myself bothered by this narrative device. Nickerson’s well crafted book asks the reader to consider and respect the complex inner lives of young people.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Sara works part time in a library (yaaay!) and advises that one of the best steps to becoming a writer is to be a reader first.