The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Return to the world of the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky in this follow-up novel. Mo and Dale continue to run their Desperado Detective Agency but the mysteries have gotten smaller. Then an old inn goes up for sale and Miss Lana, Mo’s guardian, accidentally purchases it. That’s when it is discovered that that inn comes with a resident ghost. Now it is up to Dale and Mo to figure out why the ghost is haunting the inn, something they also manage to make into a homework assignment to do double duty. But the mystery of the ghost is tied up in other secrets in Tupelo Landing, secrets that have been kept for decades but that must be revealed to solve this mystery.
Returning to Tupelo Landing was immediately like being reunited with friends. There was catching up to do, but it was easy and warm right from the beginning. Turnage’s writing is rich and layered. She excels at descriptions, creating analogies that are surprising and constantly original. Here in Mo’s voice is a description of Lavender, the boy she plans to marry eventually:
Lavender has eyes blue as October’s sky and hair like just-mown wheat. He’s wiry and tall, and flows like a lullaby.
All of your favorite characters from the first book are back again. There are the Colonel and Miss Lana, continuing to figure out their relationship while running a restaurants whose theme changes every night. There is Grandmother Miss Lacy whose funding saves Miss Lana and the inn, but who may be dealing with secrets of her own. There is even the scary Red Baker who may be closer to the ghost than anyone else. There is even one complex new character who takes time to learn about because his secrets are held very close. And then of course there are Mo and Dale, the two detectives at the heart of the story and who give the story its heart.
Funny, heartfelt and memorable, this sequel is just as good as the award-winning original. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Group.
A Certain October by Angela Johnson
Johnson continues to write powerful books in a short format. Here we meet Scotty, a teenage girl who thinks of herself as rather bland, like tofu. The people around her seem more vibrant and complex like her little brother who has autism and enjoys trains, being naked, and eating cookies. Her best friends too seem to be more interesting to Scotty. Then in October everything changes because of a train accident. Scotty’s little brother is injured severely and another boy is killed. Scotty feels responsible for both of them, though she barely knew the other boy. This is a story that takes the small details of life and then shows how a single event can tear through, changing life forever.
Johnson writes like a poet, using unique symbolism to make her points. Scotty sees herself as tofu, bland until someone else adds flavor. Readers though will immediately understand that that is how Scotty views herself, not how the she actually is. Instead Scotty is an intriguing mix of teen angst, intelligence, and a big heart.
Johnson writes her characters in real life. They all read as real people, not even the parents becoming stereotypical. The teen boys are just as human as the main character, treating the girls with respect and friendship. It’s a refreshing change to see male secondary characters who are more than a stereotype too. When Scotty is grieving, the power of family and friendship together is obvious.
With its dynamic cover and short length, this book is sure to be picked up by teen readers. Here they will find a strong heroine who is intensely and utterly real. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Abby has always been on the outskirts of her group of friends, considered the fat one who could be teased endlessly about her weight. She has to be careful not to give her real opinion and to always toe the line set by the group leader. Privately, she considers them to be “medium girls” and nothing special, but they are her friends. As Abby starts to investigate the abandoned lot across from her house, she gets gently bitten by a fox. It is from that point on that she is no longer content to be a medium girl herself. Following the fox and then a dog, Abby discovers a creek she never knew was in her neighborhood and then a farm on the other side. A boy lives there with his grandmother and his father who is recovering from battle in Afghanistan. As their friendship grows, Abby gains self confidence and is able to give a lot back too.
This book had me from the very first page. Told from the point of view of the fox, the first short chapter invites readers to speaks to the power of story, the role of fabled characters in our lives, and moments when the real world and myths intertwine. It sets the stage perfectly for what is to come. This is a realistic story that has magic and myth moments. The writing is outstanding, bringing magic into our world through empty lots filled with weeds, foxes who live in urban settings, edges of suburbs, and newfound friends.
Abby is a great character. She is chubby and ridiculed for it by not only her friends but her parents. Yet she has a quiet strength, an underlying confidence, that allows her to withstand those opinions and grow into the person she really is. She is a wonderfully normal child, not the brightest, not the strongest, but one who is willing to see beyond the weeds to the flowers.
This is a radiant book that celebrates the quiet, the mythical, the connections that are too often missed in our rush. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.