Sam MacKenzie is happy in his life, for the most part: he lives with his grandfather, Mack, above their wood shop; the other two store owners: Anima and Onji are also part of his family. Sam is talented with wood, helping Mack in their wood shop. Sam does have trouble reading, but with the support of his teachers and Mack, Anima, and Onji, it doesn’t really bother him much. That is, until the night before his 11th birthday, he’s snooping around trying to find his presents. He sneaks into the attic and finds a box with a newspaper clipping sticking out. It has a picture of him, as a three-year-old, and Sam is able to figure out the words “Sam Bell” and “missing”. Suddenly, his whole life foundation is rocked. Who is Mack? What do these dreams that have started resurfacing mean? He finds himself wondering: who is he, really?
In order to solve the mystery, Sam must read the newspaper article. In order to read the newspaper article, he must find someone to help him. The person he gets to help him is Caroline, a new girl, the daughter of artists, someone who never stays long in one place, and with whom he’s been assigned to work on project at school. Together, they work on figuring out Sam’s past, and in the process discover what frienship truly is.
I liked this book. They mystery is quite intense: at one point, I was imagining all sorts of sordid and wicked and horrible things that may have happened to Sam (what if Mack is some kind of kidnapper?). But that wasn’t the case (and it was most likely me reading into the book more than was there; I’m not sure a kid reading would get what I did out of it), and the ending was sufficently sweet and innocent, but not cloying. I also liked the friendship between Sam and Caroline: they weren’t best friends, but they worked well together, and their strengths played off each other in an interesting way. There was also none of that ew-your-a-member-of-the-opposite-sex stuff; there was a brief reference to it in the beginning, but Sam and Caroline quickly got past it, and worked together notwithstanding.
A good read.
This one takes a slightly different spin on friendship, though it’s also between a girl and a boy. Nadie and Nick have been friends since kindergarten. They’ve done everything together. But, then they started fourth grade at the Upper Elementary School (grades 4-6; we had one like this when we lived in Macomb), and found out that boys and girls aren’t supposed to be friends. So, they pretend they aren’t. Except for when they’re working on the class magazine, and at home. Then Summer moves in and joins the class. Summer doesn’t know the “rules” and spends her first day “breaking” them, which inadvertantly gets Nadie in a whole lotta trouble. This, in turn, strains her relationship with Nick, and she “loses” her job on the magazine. It takes a couple of very bad weeks, but Nadie eventually figures things out, and learns how to walk against the popular tide.
I probably made it out to be more than it was, but I also liked this book. Mostly because I felt for Nadie. She had two really bad weeks, but they were also really important weeks, because she eventually learned a lesson that I think is important for all kids: it’s okay not to do what everyone else does. Even if that only means being friends with the boys. I liked the way Nadie worked on it, and how she figured out how to be herself and friends with Nick and make things work at school. I also liked Summer, her carefree attitude reminded me of a younger Stargirl — she ate weird, she sat on the boys side, she was friends with everyone. And because of that, she was initially shunned. I’m all for standing on your own, even if it is lonely (because it sometimes can be), because being an individual and not a part of the crowd is the better way to live. And this book addressed that in a way that I think kids could relate to and understand and accept.
Besides, it’s got a great scene with an exploding rotten potato. How can it not be good?
(Just for the record: because these are Cybils nominees, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)