Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Standalone, Family
Published: April 9th, 2013 by Candlewick Press
Hardcover, 200 pages
How I Got This Book: Checked it out from the library
Why I Picked It Up?: A coworker asked me if I had heard about this book, because it seems like a contender for the Newberry Award for 2014. That interested me, so I added it immediately!
Book Jacket Blurb: “In an extraordinary debut novel, an escaped fugitive ends everything two siblings think they know about their family, their past, and themselves.
When eleven-year-old Annie first started lying to her social worker, she had been taught by an expert: Gran. ‘If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it with excellence,’ Gran would say. That was when Gran was feeling talkative, and not brooding for days in her room–as she did after telling Annie and her little brother, Rew, the one thing they know about their father: that he was killed in a fight with an angry man who was sent away. Annie and Rew spend their days under the birches and oaks of the Zebra Forest, telling stories about their father the pirate, or pilot, or secret agent. But then something shocking happens to unravel all their stories: a rattling at the back door, an escapee from the prison holding them hostage in their own home, four lives that will never be the same.
This deeply compelling, emotionally evocative, and grippingly suspenseful look at the complicated fallout from long-held family secrets is at once impossible to put down and impossible to forget.”
As soon as I read this blurb, I knew two things. 1) I wanted to read it, and 2) This is a potential for the 2014 Newberry Award.
Family secret novels are always intriguing to me, which is why I was really excited for this MG story! Annie and Rew live with their Gran in a small town. Their father died when they were really young, and their mother abandoned them soon afterwards. Gran is a very private person who is slowly losing her mind, so Annie and Rew pretty much take care of themselves. They have a secret place in the forest behind their house, named Zebra Forest because the trees make it look like a zebra. They go their to read stories, and to imagine who their dad was before he was killed. Little do they know, everything they think about their lives and their family is about to be challenged.
The character development and transformation in this story is amazingly beautiful. Andrew Snow, Annie, Rew, and Gran are all flawed characters that each go through their own personal transformations. Annie has a lot of understanding, and she is someone that you just fall in love with immediately. Her relationship with Rew is so precious and true. But when Andrew Snow shows up, Rew pulls away, upset and filled with anger. And Annie must learn how to balance everything–her family, her emotions, her hopes. This is quite an emotional book, where you really can relate to the characters’ plights. And yet…
There were some aspects to this story that I just wasn’t feeling. For one thing, when I finished this book, I felt like it was only 75%-80% completed. For such a short book, I felt like Gewirtz was trying to tell a heart-felt story similar to Bridge to Terabithia. But somewhere along the way, the story just wasn’t all the way completed. There were little holes throughout this book that prevented me from falling in love with it. I understand that it is a children’s book, but there were a couple of questions raised that were just not answered to my liking.
You never really find out if Andrew Snow knew whose house he was entering, or if it was just a coincidence. And that kind of left me with an incomplete feeling, either way. Because if it was the former, then just come out and tell us at some point in the novel. And if it is the later, then that makes this story much less realistic. Because how could it be a coincidence that he just SHOWS UP at this house? It can’t.
The holes are little, but they made a big impact on my overall enjoyment of this story. This story had a TON of potential, but it just fell short for me.
Overall, this was a good read. Nothing spectacular, but a likeable book. However, Gewirtz story-telling style is definitely something I would like to read again, in a different story context.
My Bookshelf Rating:
I felt that this story was only 75% completed. I really liked the background story of these characters and their development throughout the novel, but it just wasn’t complete enough–there were some minor holes that prevented me from really loving this story. However, Gewirtz story-telling is beautiful, and I will be looking for her next novel. I really wanted to love this book, but I just like it. It’s good, but it could have been fantastic. And that makes me a little sad.
Love and Tater Tots,