The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser, was published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

It’s five days before Christmas, and the Vanderbeeker children should be dreaming about sugar plums and presents. But when their curmudgeonly landlord mysteriously refuses to renew their lease, the five siblings must find a way to change his mind before New Year’s. All they have to do is show him how wonderful they are, right? But as every well-intentioned plan goes comically awry, their shenanigans only exasperate their landlord more. What the Vanderbeekers need now is a Christmas miracle. Funny, heartfelt, and as lively as any street in Harlem, this cozy family novel is about the connections we make and the unexpected twists and turns life can take.

Rating: 4/5

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street has all the charm of Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy family or of Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks. The Vanderbeeker family stole my heart almost immediately—each character was distinctive and unique, their plight was realistic and their efforts to save their home fit their characters and made sense in both effort and result.

There’s animal-loving Laney, creative Hyacinth, bookworm Oliver, scientist Jesse, and musician Isa (Yan Glaser checks all the hobby and personality boxes), who team up to get Mr. Beiderman, their reclusive landlord, to renew their lease. Along the way, they learn a lot about themselves and a whole lot more about Mr. Beiderman, a story which is honestly one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. Yan Glaser pulls no punches in filling in Mr. Beiderman’s background, but she’s also not afraid to have characters talk through and explain their emotions, something which tends to get overlooked a little in children’s and MG fiction at times.

However, Yan Glaser still has some wrinkles to iron out before I think I could really place this book on level with Birdsall or Enright. Some things were a touch too dramatic: Jesse and Isa’s fight, while meant to instill tension and stall the siblings’ efforts, was executed poorly, in my opinion—not what led to the fight, but rather the moment they actually fought about it—and some of the writing, especially when focusing that tension, felt stilted. I also felt the ending was rushed, since Yan Glaser had to fit a lot into the timeframe she had set for the novel. But those were all little things, really.

I’m really glad I picked up this book, and I’m glad the review on the back of the book—boasting of the Vanderbeekers joining the likes of the Melendy family—didn’t let me down. While Enright and Birdsall are still my reigning “family unit” authors, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, and Yan Glaser, crept up right behind them.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2IOgEOf

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