Sara Pennypacker Pulled It Off

I didn’t think she could bring this book to a satisfying conclusion, but she did. The blogs were buzzing about Summer of the Gypsy Moths and Newbery medals, so I thought I should give it a try. I love Clementine, after all, so why not something for a bit older audience?

Little did I realize that Ms. Pennypacker would put two 12-year-old girls in the position of spritzing a corpse with Febreeze each day until they realize that they just have to bury it in the backyard.

After Stella’s grandmother dies and her mother abandons her, she is sent to live with her only remaining relative, Great-Aunt Louise. Since they live in a fairly remote location where Louise takes care of a group of summer cottages on Cape Cod, Louise thinks it would be nice for Stella to have company, so she takes in a 12-year-old foster child named Angel. Neither of the girls thinks this is a great idea, and they barely speak until the afternoon they come home to find Great-Aunt Louise dead in her chair in front of her favorite soap opera. As she picks up the phone to call 911, Stella realizes that the minute the police find out about Louise, she and Angel will both be sent to foster homes.

How in the world can these two girls make it through the summer without anyone finding out that they are alone? All I could imagine was that both of them would end up in a juvenile detention facility before all was said and done. As Gonzo says in Muppet Treasure Island, “This is supposed to be a kid’s movie!” Somehow, Sara Pennypacker writes this desperate, difficult story with the same light, sweet hand that she uses in her Clementine series. Your heart will ache for Stella as she clings to her Hints from Heloise clippings that help her to keep her world organized, and I won’t reveal to you how Angel copes with her pain, as it leads to a very moving scene late in the book.

The only flaw I found is that I am not sure how realistic the last few scenes are, since I am not familiar with juvenile law. Anyone want to weigh in? There is also one line that would probably not come out of the mouth of a child Stella’s age, but we’ll just remember that she’s precocious.

This is a very thought-provoking read for your 10-14 crowd, particularly girls, as well as grown-ups like me who love kids’ books. Also, if you haven’t made Clementine’s acquaintance, she will quickly become a favorite of your new readers up to 10 years old.

Happy reading!

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