I usually look forward to summer when I have extended opportunities to relax and read. I had high hopes for several books that I found this year, but was sorely disappointed that I could not recommend several of them. Rather than torture our loyal readers with a series of dismal reviews, I decided to summarize four of them (target audience ages 9-12) briefly in one installment. Interestingly, all of these books feature protagonists from broken homes. I hope this information will be helpful to parents and teachers.
Henry & Eva and the Castle on the Cliff by Andrea Portes
Henry and Eva have recently been orphaned when their parents were in an alleged boating accident. Several ancestral ghosts appear to the children to inform them that their parents were murdered and that the children should uncover the truth.
Aside from a trite surprise ending that was not at all a surprise, the book contains some unfortunate details. Henry and Eva are living with their workaholic uncle and his girlfriend (not married) who drinks and smokes excessively. While this appears at the beginning to be indicative that they are the “bad guys” in the story, in the end, they are actually good (sorry for the spoiler), sending a mixed message to young readers. Adults will also be shocked that Eva (age 12) discusses The Shawshank Redemption as someone who has seen the movie. While it may be an engaging film, surely anyone who has seen it would agree that it is not appropriate for a twelve year old and would wonder why it would come up in a book for children.
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty
Like Henry & Eva, this book started out with great promise, but disappointed in the end. Bronte has lived a rather sheltered life with her Aunt Isabelle because her parents ran off when she was a baby to have adventures – or so she thinks. She receives instructions that she must travel around the world to visit her other aunts, give them gifts and eventually rescue her parents. The story is quite entertaining. The problem? A bit of bad language and an aunt who has an affair and a child out of wedlock. While some readers may find this overcautious, this reviewer fails to see the merit in including such a detail in a children’s book.
Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway
Cady Bennett is sent to live with an aunt she never knew she had. Why? Because her alcoholic father came to school inebriated to pick her up. Cady develops a wonderful relationship with her stoic, logical Aunt Shell and Shell’s super emotional live-in “friend” Suzanne. Eventually Cady learns that her mother was a drug addict and that her parents never told her about her aunt because they were religious fanatics. Other themes that permeate the book in a rather preachy and forced way: racial profiling, immigration, global warming and nutrition. The author seems to be trying too hard to convey her opinions in book form.
The Astonishing Maybe by Shaunta Grimes
Gideon’s family moves from the Jersey Shore to Nevada where he befriends Roona. Roona lives alone with her mother because her father is in prison for setting fire to their house, though Roona thinks he is in the military. Meanwhile, Roona’s mother seems nice, but Gideon eventually learns that she has attempted suicide by overdose at least once. Roona tries to hide this fact because the last time it happened, she was sent to live with relatives where she was sexually abused by a cousin and beaten by an aunt. Gideon gets mixed up in Roona’s schemes to get her father home, hides many important things from his parents (who are actually quite reasonable) until he is in over his head. All in all, a bit heavy for the average ten-year-old reader.
Jennifer Minicus is a teacher living in New Jersey.