“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated….” With her grandmother’s taunt, Louise knew that she, like the biblical Esau, was the despised elder twin. Caroline, her selfish younger sister, was the one everyone loved. Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, angry Louise reveals how Caroline robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampered Caroline, Wheeze (her sister’s name for her) began to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who had mysterious returned after fifty years. The war unexpectedly gave this independent girl a change to fulfill her childish dream to work as a waterman alongside her father. But the dream did not satisfy the woman she was becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise began to fight her way to a place where Caroline could not reach.
Jacob Have I Loved is written by the same author as Bridge to Terabithia, a book I still vividly remember and another Newbery Medal winner that I’ll be reading at some point. Another of her books, The Great Gilly Hopkins, won a Newbery Honor. So, basically, Katherine Paterson’s books are good and she won a lot of awards for them.
However, I must say, I was disappointed by Jacob Have I Loved. I think it was because the underpinning of the novel, the perceived favoritism of Caroline that affects pretty much everything Louise does, seemed more like Louise was overreacting to small things than actual favoritism. To me, Louise seemed overly melodramatic in places, such as when Caroline would say something normal and Louise would suddenly start yelling or storm out of the house. I understand that they’re teenagers, but Louise didn’t really do much to make me sympathize with her feelings of jealousy and invisibility.
It got a little better once more solid things than Louise’s perceptions were involved, such as Call and Captain Wallace, and Paterson better communicated Louise’s sense of always being overshadowed, but still, several times during the novel I thought Louise was being more ridiculous than Caroline and certainly was more unlikeable.
Perhaps that was Paterson’s point, though, that Louise was ultimately unhappy with her own life and was blaming it on whoever or whatever was in reach, such as her sister. In which case, Louise’s behavior makes more sense, I suppose.
There were also several parts of the book I found inexplicably strange, such as Louise’s infatuation with Captain Wallace (??) that had virtually no explanation and then dissipated into nothing, used only as a vehicle for Louise’s grandmother to say mean things and scare Louise, and the ending, which I sort of understood when I read it, then read someone describing how bittersweet it was, and then read the ending again only to wonder from where in the world that person was getting any of his descriptions. Either the ending communicated something that I clearly missed or the person inferred a whole lot from two pages that wasn’t actually there.
I can see why Jacob Have I Loved won the Newbery; it’s exactly the sort of adolescent coming-of-age novel that these sorts of awards seem to attract. But I didn’t quite buy Louise’s characterization and for a lot of the book I barely sympathized with her, seeing her instead as a melodramatic teenager who needed to stop blowing things out of proportion. It got a little better by the end, but overall I barely enjoyed Jacob Have I Loved. Mostly, I think it’s strange and not something I would immediately recommend.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Swearing, some nasty insinuations made by the grandmother
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic
“I’d want to pay you something,” the Captain said. My ears stretched practically to the top of my head, and I opened my mouth to utter a humble thanks.
“Oh, no,” said Call. “We couldn’t think of taking money from a neighbor.”
Who couldn’t? But for once in his life Call talked faster than I could think, and the two of them snatched away my time and energy and sold me into slavery before I had breath to hint that I wouldn’t be insulted by a small tip every now and then.
When Ari’s mother died four years ago, she made Ari promise that she and her older brother, Gage, would stay together always. So when Gage decides he can no longer live with their bossy guardian, Janna, Ari knows she has to go with him, even though they don’t have an apartment yet. Instead, Gage and Ari “couch surf,” crashing with friends or sneaking into shelters to escape the cold Maine nights. In all this chaos, there is one thing that gives Ari comfort: her Paper Things. She knows she’s too old to play with the paper people she’s cut out of magazines over the years, but it’s nice to pretend to have a big, happy family and a house with a room all her own. Of course, it would be better if she didn’t have to pretend.
Paper Things, though a little clumsy in execution, is a sweet book about family, love, determination, and the problems and emotions that can arise from keeping (or not keeping) secrets. The problems that Ari faces and the solutions that come about flow naturally from each other, so nothing seems contrived, forced, or too over-the-top to seem unrealistic. Enough is explained of Gage and Janna’s relationship to understand both why Gage left and why Janna didn’t pick much of a fight about Ari leaving. And, though Ari and Gage never seem to be in any real danger, there is enough hinted at that gives the vague feeling of danger for these two siblings while they are without their own home.
The book is marred by only one major thing: the author’s tendency to philosophize, moralize and explain all of Ari’s symbolic decisions through Ari’s thoughts and dialogue. This gets especially bad at the end, when, of course, everything turns out all right and Ari grows up and Learns Things and reflects back on her experiences—basically, a whole lot of telling when it’s not needed, because we’ve already been shown how Ari has changed. Having her philosophize for the last two chapters was gilding the lily and nearly ruined the entire book for me.
Paper Things is good, but it’s prevented from being great by the at-times clumsy writing and the whole lot of “let me tell you what I’ve already showed through my actions” that goes on at the end. Maybe middle grade readers need that sort of thing shoved down their throats, but I doubt it—subtle tends to be much more powerful than explicit and much longer lasting in impact. There’s very little that makes this book bad, but there’s a whole lot stopping it from being great.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic
I yank the folder out of his hands and place it at the bottom of the pile of books. He’s still clutching Miles, though.
“Give,” I say, making a grab for him.
But Briggs pulls his arm back playfully. And as quick as that, Miles tears in two.
I can’t believe I’m only holding half of him in my fingers. Miles was the first person I ever cut out of a catalog. I have played with him in our apartment on Crest Street, at Sasha’s, and Janna’s, and every place we’ve stayed since.
My eyes don’t tear up. I don’t say anything. I’m more invisible than invisible.
Disclaimer: Sandpiper Cove, by Irene Hannon, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Hope Harbor police chief and single mom Lexie Graham has zero time for extracurricular activities—including romance. Ex-con Adam Stone isn’t looking for love either—but how ironic is it that the first woman to catch his eye is a police chief? When Lexie enlists Adam’s help to keep a troubled young man from heading down the wrong path, sparks begin to fly. Could it be that God may have a different—and better—future planned for them than either could imagine?
My rating: 1/5
Sandpiper Cove is the story of a police chief and an ex-con who help out a teenager who gets in trouble for vandalism and who fall in love with each other along the way. If you imagine any contemporary Christian romance novel, that’s what you get here, complete with love at first sight, electric touches, lots of kissing (and even kissing in grandiose ways like in the movies; just imagine Aragorn kissing Arwen after he’s crowned in Minas Tirith. That’s literally what happens here), romantic angst, and, of course, lengthy descriptions about how beautiful/handsome the main characters are.
Full-disclosure here, I’m going to try and get through this review without getting scathing, but I may not be successful because this book was a nightmare to get through.
First of all, let me just say that I almost stopped reading after the second page when Hannon describes a sigh “like C02 whooshing out of a soft drink can.” Uh, what? Just say he sighed and move on!
Second, Sandpiper Cove revealed a convention of romance in general, and of the Christian romance I’ve been reading in particular, that I utterly despise: the beautiful couple. I know there’s beautiful people out there. I know they meet, fall in love, and get married. But that doesn’t mean every romance I read needs to be between a “drop-dead gorgeous” woman with “full lips” and “stunning eyes” and a man who has “rippling muscles,” “sun-kissed skin” and a “chiseled jaw.” Give me someone who wears sweatpants and maybe has some acne and has scraggly hair and spin me a romance out of that, please, because that also happens and is way more relatable.
Also, Lexie and Adam’s romance was cheesy and cliché to the extreme. It was conventional, it was predictable, it was fake angst drawn out over predictable tension, and the sappiest stuff you can think of. Did you think I was joking about the Aragorn/Arwen kiss above? Because I’m not. There’s literally a scene where Adam goes down the aisle during church and kisses Lexie in front of a crowd of people because why not, it’s romantic.
Oh, and the vandalism sideplot? There’s a whole lot of tension because all the evidence is circumstantial and people’s careers might be in danger and stuff, and then all of a sudden, Lexie and Adam are getting married and the entire vandalism plot is swept under the rug. I get that Hannon is trying to say that all the uncertainty and the career misgivings weren’t important and shouldn’t stop people from moving on with their lives, but after all the time spent on it, you’d think there’d be a little closure. Instead, there’s a lot of handwaving and more of the predictable, boring romance.
I could barely get through Sandpiper Cove and almost stopped reading on multiple occasions. I really don’t understand how people like this sort of boring, predictable romance, with a faux-tense plot that’s swept aside the minute the characters get together and is there only as an obvious means of getting them together. This is why I so much prefer historical romance—at least it’s more interesting than this kind of romantic nonsense.
The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar, was published in 2010 by Delacorte Press.
The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him to hook up with his best friend. He has no money and no job. His parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner—whatever that means. Alton’s uncle is old, blind, very sick, and very rich. But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious influence over him. Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda. As the summer goes on, he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.
The Cardturner is a story about bridge. That’s really the simplest way to put it. It’s a story about how to play bridge wrapped up in the story of a boy and his uncle. And Sachar manages to describe the complicated game in a perfect way, lessening its complexity, putting the rules into the voice of a teenager also learning to play bridge, and describing scenarios with helpful diagrams so that the reader knows, by the time Alton and Toni get to nationals, how important/amazing certain hands/rounds are.
I’ve read this book before, and it sucked me in for a reason I couldn’t—and still can’t—identify. I recently read Fuzzy Mud by Sachar, which was a disappointing read, and so going into this book I was a little worried that my memory of it would let me down. However, perhaps I just enjoy stories about beginners who start out with a sport or a game, not knowing how to play, and then, through practice and study, work their way up to the big leagues. Perhaps it’s the way Sachar explains the game, or the way he interweaves humor into its explanation, or the backstory given about Trapp. Whatever it is, I found The Cardturner compelling and, pun definitely intended, a page turner, exactly like I did the first time.
Now, that’s not to say there weren’t any parts I didn’t like. The entire conversation with Trapp and Alton about how ideas are the only thing that are alive was nonsensical, although I suppose Sachar did it so that he could include Alton and Toni hearing voices without going the psychological or supernatural route. Speaking of which, that part of the novel is a little hard to swallow, though it does make for a good read and emphasizes Alton’s grit and success in a way that would have been lacking without it. However, The Cardturner is best when it’s not philosophizing and sticks to describing bridge, a game I almost never play but definitely enjoy knowing more about, thanks to this book.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Some innuendo, mentions of domestic abuse.
Genre: Realistic, Young Adult
I learned what I was supposed to do if Trapp was dealt a hand with no cards in one suit. I’d say the word void. So when telling him his hand, I’d say something like “Spades: ten, nine, eight, seven, six. Hearts: king, queen, jack. Diamonds: void. Clubs: ace, nine, six, three, two.”
I also began to understand how the game was played. I learned what trump meant. I wouldn’t admit it to my uncle, but the game began to intrigue me. I would sometimes try to guess what card he’s play before he told me to play it, but don’t worry, I never asked, “Are you sure?”
The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart, was published in 2007 by Little, Brown and Company.
‘Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?’ When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits right alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. As our heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support. But with their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all?
I read, a long time ago, the sequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society. I don’t remember anything about it; I don’t even remember if I finished it or not after I discovered it wasn’t the first book. Now, I’ve finally read the original book, after hearing quite a lot of praise about it from several people.
I must say, though, that I was a little underwhelmed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it—I enjoyed it immensely at the beginning, when there were lots of puzzles and riddles and general quirkiness. Then, when the book got more serious and stranger, I found myself feeling considerably more lukewarm about it.
The problem, to me, is that The Mysterious Benedict Society starts out as an odd, but fun book where children solve riddles and become part of a group that will then utilize their individual strengths to do better things. Then, while still promoting the same thing (with less riddles), a convoluted, strange plot develops and the book takes an entirely different turn into something odd, but not fun, becoming a little more tedious and a little less enjoyable.
Maybe the problem is that Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance spend too much time at the school before things get moving. Maybe the problem was with the entire concept of “Messengers,” “Executives,” and the strange “Whisperer.” Maybe I’m finding it more difficult to take seriously a book that, to me, is uneven in tone and where the one thing that I enjoyed at the beginning—the riddles—is pushed to the side for a convoluted plot about mind-control.
I did enjoy the puzzles enough in The Mysterious Benedict Society to perhaps pick up the sequel and see how much I remember from that long-ago read. However, the book was underwhelming enough that I may simply forget all about it.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Realistic (I suppose), Middle Grade
After a few more pages of questions, all of which Reynie felt confident he had answered correctly, he arrived at the test’s final question: “Are you brave?” Just reading the words quickened Reynie’s heart. Was he brave? Bravery had never been required of him, so how could he tell? Miss Perumal would say he was: she would point out how cheerful he tried to be despite feeling lonely, how patiently he withstood the teasing of other children, and how he was always eager for a challenge. But these things only showed that he was good-natured, polite, and very often bored. Did they really show that he was brave? He didn’t think so. Finally he gave up trying to decide and simply wrote, “I hope so.”
Disclaimer: Maybe It’s You, by Candace Calvert, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Nurse Sloane Ferrell escaped her risky past—new name, zip code, job, and a fresh start. She’s finally safe, if she avoids a paper trail and doesn’t let people get too close. Like the hospital’s too-smooth marketing man with his relentless campaign to plaster one “lucky” employee’s face on freeway billboards. Micah Prescott’s goal is to improve the Hope hospital image, but his role as a volunteer crisis responder is closer to his heart. The selfless work helps fill a void in his life left by family tragedy. So does a tentative new relationship with the compassionate, beautiful, and elusive Sloane Ferrell. Then a string of brutal crimes makes headlines, summons responders…and exposes disturbing details of Sloane’s past. Can hope spring from crisis?
My rating: 3/5
Apparently there are two books previous to Maybe It’s You, but they’re not necessary to read beforehand—which is good because I didn’t. I’m assuming, based on what I know about the first two books and what was revealed in this one, that Sloane appears as a minor character in them, but I don’t know for sure. And Calvert does enough in terms of character development that any previous development given isn’t necessary to Sloane’s growth and development in this book.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Maybe It’s You—possibly some cheesy book version of a soap opera, or something written specifically for fans of Grey’s Anatomy or something—but the plot pleasantly surprised me. There was intrigue, criminal behavior, and a much more dark and traumatic backstory than I was expecting. It’s also well-written and compelling, which is good because even though the book as a whole is not something I would usually pick up or read, I found it interesting and wanted to finish it.
However, because the book is not the sort of thing I would usually pick up or read, I can’t really gush about it or anything. Like I said, it was mildly intriguing, well-written, and more interesting than I thought it would be. Sloane had good character development and even Micah gets some backstory to make him more interesting than the usual male romantic interest. The message aspect of it was good and there was a good emphasis on things like letting go of the past, moving on from past hurt, and forgiving others.
But Maybe It’s You is pretty forgettable, at least for me. There’s nothing in it to make me want to spread the word about it, although perhaps it might lead me to keep an eye on the author if Calvert ever writes anything except medical dramas. It was good, but not great. It was interesting, but not that sort of mesmerizing interest that makes you put the book down and go “Oh, that was good. I want to think about this a lot.” I suppose the highest praise I have for the book is that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be and it’s better than I gave it credit for.
Warnings: Sexual abuse, prostitution, alcohol abuse, violence, death.
Disclaimer: The Sisters of Sugarcreek, by Cathy Liggett, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Lydia Gruber, a young Amish widow, faces an uncertain future. Without support or skills, how will she survive? With the loss of her beloved aunt, Jessica Holtz inherits Rose’s Knit One Quilt Too Cottage. Though determined to keep the sop open, she doesn’t know the first thing about knitting and quilting and begins to see her aunt’s dream slip through her fingers. Liz Cannon lost not only her dear friend Rose but her partner in the Secret Stitches Society—dedicated to delivering anonymous gifts of hope to troubled folks. She and Jessica decided to keep the society going, choosing Lydia for their first mission. The three women form an unlikely friendship in the aftermath of tragedy. As they walk together though triumph and heartbreak—through grief and new chances at love—they begin to discover that with friends by your side, a stitch of hope can be found anywhere.
My rating: 2/5
The Sisters of Sugarcreek is good in places, with interesting characters, realistic conflicts, and slightly-too-heavy-handed messages poking their heads out from plodding scenes, predictable romance, and a particularly annoying writing style. It dwells too long on angst and romance and not long enough on the deeper parts of the novel, such as Lydia’s uncertainty. To be honest, if Lydia had been the only main character, and thus the only viewpoint character, in the book, I might have enjoyed it a lot better.
Lydia’s story was, to me, the most interesting, but it often was set aside for Jessica’s boring and predictable romantic angst—I am heartily sick of the “best friend from high school was The One but she hasn’t seen him in years and now he’s back and she doesn’t know what to do because she still likes him but she doesn’t want to tell him so they dance around the subject forever while she keeps thinking about how perfect he is” trope—and Liz’s less interesting side plot. Also, I definitely think the secret behind Lydia’s husband was dealt with too quickly and brushed aside almost immediately. Or perhaps, since Lydia was my favorite, I just wanted more time spent with her and less time with the more unoriginal characters of Jessica and Liz and their plots.
Also, I don’t know why any editor would let an author get away with this, but seriously, Cathy Liggett—dependent clauses are called “dependent” for a reason. Sisters of Sugarcreek was littered with sentence fragments used for description purposes and/or emphasis, but all it accomplished was break up the writing and make it choppy and disjointed. All it emphasized was that Liggett needs a copy of The Elements of Style, or maybe stop relaying on the breaking up of sentences to do her emphasizing for her.
Overall, The Sisters of Sugarcreek is good only for Lydia’s sadly underdeveloped storyline, which communicates so much about uncertainty and growing out of that into confidence. However, Jessica and Liz cut into Lydia’s story with generic, predictable plots of their own, with love interests too perfect for me to take seriously (especially Derek; Daniel at least wobbles at the end for a decent “not perfect” finish) and slightly melodramatic conversations and problems. Add to that the author’s propensity for using fragments for descriptive purposes, and for most of the book I was looking forward for it to be over.
The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley, was published in 1941 by Random House.
Published originally in 1941, this book is about a young boy, Alec Ramsay who finds a wild black stallion at a small Arabian port on the Red Sea. Between the black stallion and young boy, a strange understanding grew that you lead them through untold dangers as they journeyed to America. Nor could Alec understand that his adventures with the black stallion would capture the interest of an entire nation.
I attribute my love for horse racing when I was younger (that still lingers slightly today) completely to The Black Stallion and its sequels. I think the only series on horse racing I read more was Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred series. The Black Stallion is equal parts shipwreck story, animal-bonding story, and horse racing guide. It might not be as monumental or memorable as Black Beauty or other famous horse books, but this book will always hold a near and dear place in my heart.
The Black Stallion is the reason I was so moved by Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. That “wild horse that only one person can tame” aspect resonated with me when I read The Black Stallion when I was young, and it resonated again reading Stiefvater’s work. I’m not going to compare them beyond that, but they’re both special to me for that reason.
Walter Farley may not be the best writer, and stereotypes abound in the areas Farley clearly is not familiar with, but The Black Stallion is a dear book from my childhood, and I love it for that reason—and for many of its sequels, which are even more informative about horse racing and at times even more exciting and suspenseful than the original shipwreck story (and then there are the last couple of books, but we won’t talk about those). It’s not the best horse story, but it holds a special place in my heart all the same.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Realistic, Children’s
That night Alex lay wide awake, his body aching with pain, but his heart pounding with excitement. He had ridden the Black! He had conquered this wild, unbroken stallion with kindness. He felt sure that from that day on the Black was his—his alone! But for what—would they ever be rescued? Would he ever see his home again?
Springtime is finally arriving on Gardam Street, and with it comes all the joyful chaos of the Penderwicks. The brood has grown to six with the addition of Lydia, the new youngest sibling, and there are surprises in store for all. Some surprises are just wonderful, like neighbor Nick Geiger coming home from war. And some are ridiculous, like Batty’s new dog-walking business, which has resulted in her spending an inordinate amount of time with Duchess, a very fat dachshund, and Cilantro, a wrinkled shar-pei with a bark like a lovelorn tuba. Batty is saving up her dog-walking money for an extra-special surprise for her family, which she plans to present on her upcoming birthday. The timing is perfect: Rosalind will be home from college, Skye and Jane will put their bothersome teenage worries aside to celebrate, and Jeffrey, honorary Penderwick and Batty’s musical mentore, will be visiting from Boston. But when an unwelcome surprise arrives, the best-laid plans fall apart. Filled with all the heart, hilarity, and charm that have come to define this beloved clan, The Penderwicks in Spring is about fun and family and friends (and dogs), and what happens when you bring what’s hidden into the bright light of the spring sun.
Full disclosure: I cried shamelessly while reading this book.
Birdsall did the absolute best thing for the Penderwicks series when she decided to make The Penderwicks in Spring take place several years after The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. We’ve had our Rosalind, Jane, and Skye stories—now it’s time for Batty to take the limelight, and oh, boy, does she. Every single aspect of this book—from the sorrow and angst of Batty’s hidden worries and guilt to the fun and humorous interactions between the characters—was perfect.
To be honest, this book left me a little speechless, and even trying to find something to say beyond “perfection” is a struggle at the moment. I love how the exact timeframe the books take place in is never narrowed down. It’s definitely modern, yet the kids don’t have cellphones, don’t really use computers, and there is no mention of video games or television. There is a mention of a war but it’s never called by any name. It might very well take place in the 80s, but what makes this book (and the others) so great is that it doesn’t matter what decade they take place in because the heart of the books reach beyond that.
The Penderwicks in Spring reads very much like a last book to me. There’s a decisive finality to it, even more so than the previous books. The past is finally cleared, the way forward for the Penderwicks is apparent (and it will end with Skye/Jeffrey, thus I declare), and, to be honest, I doubt another Penderwick book could ever surpass the pleasure and emotion I experienced while reading this one. If Birdsall decides to write another book (about Lydia, maybe?), then I will gladly snatch it up and read it—yet TPS is such a perfect way to end the series that I might feel disappointed if another book did get published.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Realistic, Children’s
And then it happened—her sprite tried to sing. Batty clapped her hand over her mouth and hoped Ben hadn’t noticed.
He’d noticed. “What was that sound?”
“What sound?” is what Batty said, except that it sounded like whu sohn because her hand was still over her mouth.
“That sound you just made.”
“Maybe your stomach was growling.”
He stared at her suspiciously. His stomach hadn’t’ growled. “There it goes again!”
“Maybe it’s my stomach!”
She started to push him toward the door, but he resisted. “If it’s your stomach, why is your hand over your mouth?”
Disclaimer: Larger-Than-Life Lara, by Dandi Daley Mackall, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
‘This isn’t about me. The story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up. At least htat’s what Mrs. Smith, my teachers, says.’ But the story is about ten-year-old Laney Grafton and the new girl in her class—Lara Phelps—whom everyone bullies from the minute she shows up. But instead of acting the way a bullied kid normally acts, this new girl returns kindness for a meanness that intensifies—until nobody remains unchanged, not even the reader.
My rating: 4/5
Dandi Daley Mackall wrote some of my favorite book series growing up: Winnie the Horse Gentler and Horsefeathers, back in the day when stories about horses composed 80% of my reading. Seeing another book of hers pop up on the Tyndale Blog Network intrigued me, even if this book is technically a republication (Larger-Than-Life Lara was originally published 10 years ago, in 2006).
Larger-Than-Life Lara is a short, but wholesome, book. Laney is a wonderful protagonist, and the hints at her home life never reveal too much or hide too little. Her voice is funny and the crafting of the story is smart—as a teacher, I found myself reading and thinking, “This is a perfect book to read to help explain story elements.”
It’s also a perfect book to discuss with a younger audience. Lara’s actions, Laney’s feelings, and the entire attitudes and behaviors of the class, are rich for discussion. The story is poignant, sweet, and heartbreaking in turns, and it’s just as much about Laney as it is about Lara and her effect on the fourth-grade class.
My favorite aspect of the book, though, is that Larger-Than-Life Lara communicates so much of the Christian message without even mentioning God once. Lara’s actions are beautifully Christ-like, with her capacity to forgive, her willingness to take fault when she herself did nothing, and the transforming effect her actions have on her classmates. There’s so much there for young readers to think and talk about. Larger-Than-Life Lara was a joy to read, and it’s nice to see that even if the works I read by Mackall as a child have worn old over the years, there are still some of her works that delight me.
Warnings: Alcohol abuse, hints at a bad home life, bullying.