by Tracy Holczer
First sentence: “All I had to do was walk up to the coffin.”
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Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss.
Content: The subject matter — death and forgiveness — is a bit mature, but not so much that I don’t think a fourth-grader could handle it. There is some talk of crushes and bras, but even that is pretty tame.
It has always been just Grace and her mother. For 12 years, they’ve been wandering from city to city, finding work and a place to live here and there, never really settling down. When they finally make it to Sacramento, moving in with another single mom and her daughter, Grace finds she’s had enough of moving. She and her mother argue, and later that night, her mother dies in a tragic accident.
Suddenly, Grace is faced with moving in with her grandmother, whom she’s never met (and has a terrible opinion of, since she kicked Grace’s mom out when she got pregnant). To say it’s not something she wants to do is an understatement. At first, she tries to resist moving in with her grandma; she takes to sleeping in the shed, and tries to pull pranks to get her grandma to send her back to her friends’ house, where she was living. But, slowly, as she gets accustomed to the town, she learns that clues to her mother’s past, and therefore hers, are there, and slowly builds a home for herself.
I’ve read a lot of books with dead parents, so it takes something special to make one stand out of the pack. And I think, in many ways, this one had that something special. First: it was death-by-accident, and Grace was the first one to find her mom. It was realistic in that they argued, it was sudden, and Grace has to live with that. There’s also the non-shiny way everything fit together. Grandma was curt and doesn’t deal with loss well. Grace was petulant and stubborn and doesn’t deal with loss well. People are selfish, and unhappy, and yet…. it all works to make it feel more real than grating (it sounds grating. It isn’t. Well, maybe a little. But that helps give Grace her growth arc.). I also enjoyed the artistic thread that weaved its way through the book; Grace’s mother was an artist, her grandmother a landscape designer, and she’s a writer. The words of Robert Frost also tie this book together, giving it a poetic feel. It’s also a very hopeful book, one that looks past grief and loss to find a new beginning.
And one I found that, in spite of being about death and loss, I thoroughly enjoyed.