by Rose Kent
First sentence: “‘Pleeeez stop singing, Ma.'”
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Tess is not happy with her mother. Sure, life in San Antonio wasn’t all that terrific: their Pa walked out on them years ago, Ma’s grand ideas for making money kept flopping, and the rent was overdue. But was all that a reason to uproot the family — Ma, Tess and her younger, deaf brother Jordan — to Schenectady, New York? Especially in January, the dead of winter. And the grand plan this time? To open an ice cream shop. Tess is less than pleased, to say the least.
Adjusting to the snow, ice, and a whole new middle school isn’t a piece of cake; it’s cold and she doesn’t quite feel like she fits in. Jordan keeps resisting his new school, he’s not learning new signs, which worries Tess. Ma’s spending all her time (and money) getting the new shop ready, which really worries Tess, since Ma’s prone to high ups and crashing lows, and Tess knows they can’t afford to have that happen.
It’s only as the winter wears on, and Tess finds ways to reach out: in the Senior Center community that they live in, at school with peer mediation, and eventually at the ice cream shop, that Tess finds out what community, friendship and surviving the rocky road of life is really kind of sweet.
It’s a sweet little book; very distinctive in its voice: the clash of Texas and New York is just oozing out of it. The characters, though perhaps a bit stereotypical (deaf younger brother provides challenge, crazy mom, well-meaning neighbors who offer up home-made charm, strange Zen-vegan new friends, crusty ex-Navy man with a heart of gold), still are quite enjoyable and engaging to read about. The conflict is all with Tess and her mother; Tess feels so much older than her twelve years, mostly because her mother — due to an eventual diagnosis of bipolar disorder — is so unreliable. And the whole crazy mother thing is often so overdone. But in this case it worked to make it a true Middle Grade novel: Tess took the initiative, got help from friends, including adults, and worked to make things — like this book — a success.
The ice cream recipes in the back are just an added bonus.
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)