Module 7: The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister

Agell, C. (2010). The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co.

Genre: Realistic beginning chapter book.

Book Summary: At the end of her fourth grade year, India McAllister — named for the ink not the country — tries to figure out friendship, especially since her best friend is a boy and that seems to be an unacceptable thing in fourth grade; whether or not she can like her dad’s new partner, Richard;  and wonders if she will ever have an adventure (until she gets lost in the woods!).

Impressions: The reviews and summaries I read focused mostly on India’s friendship with Colby and her rivalry with Amanda, but I think that short-changes the book. India is concerned with every aspect of her life: her relationship with her parents, especially her dad who’s left and has a new partner, Richard, among other things. I liked how this one was very nondescript with that: India’s dad is gay, and has a male partner, but there isn’t a huge issue surrounding it. I thought Beatrice Bird was delightful, and enjoyed India’s relationship with her pets. And I could understand  her annoyance and confusion surrounding Colby’s sudden hanging out with Amanda, but I think it was less boy/girl friend thing and more just friend thing — if Colby had been a girl, the dynamics and feelings that India has would probably still be the same. It was a delightful story, overall; I loved the diary feel of it, including the sketch drawings.

Review: Reviewer Phelan praised the book, calling it ” rooted in a tradition that goes back to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona stories”, and praised it for being nuanced emotionally, especially around relationships, and called it a strong start to a series.

Phelan, C. (2010). The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister. The Booklist. 106 (21), 55, 58.

Library Uses: This one would be good on a display of fun girl characters boys would like, or LGBT families, or just first in a series books. It would also make a good book for a book group for younger kids.

Readalikes:

  • Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker: Clementine is slightly younger than India (eight instead of nine) but this book has the same sort of whimsy and charm that India has. Clementine is a hilarious free spirit and the books are delightful to read.
  • Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary: The true first of the Ramona series, in which we see Ramona tackle kindergarten. The Ramona books don’t have to be read in order, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 or Ramona and her Father are probably more closely like India.
  • Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder: There aren’t many realistic fiction books featuring boys that aren’t also survivalist or some other extreme situation, but Charlie and Mouse is a great example of one. It’s younger than India, but has the same sort of down-to-earth, yet whimsical and often hilarious, feeling that India has.
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Leave Me

leavemeby Gayle Forman
First sentence: “Maribeth Klein was working late, waiting to sign off on the final page proofs of the December issue, when she had a heart attack.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a handful — maybe a dozen? — f-bombs as well as some other mild swearing. The subject matter is more mature, than Forman’s other books, and it’ll be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Maribeth figures she’s living the life: she’s got a Great Editing Job at a fashion magazine, she’s got a beautiful pair of twins (that she and her husband were happy to have). She’s managing to juggle work, parenting, home life, a marriage. It’s what women are Supposed To Do, right? Then, at age 44, she has a heart attack. It sends her into a spiral, first because she’s trying to heal and no one’s giving her the support she wants/needs, and then because she just can’t seem to Care anymore. So she does what so many overworked women dream of doing: she leaves.

Nominally, she heads to Pittsburgh because, being adopted, she doesn’t know her genetic history and she is looking for her birth mother. But really, her life is too much for her to handle and she wants to try something else on for a change. She goes cash-only, she sheds her name, she wants to start over. And it seems that’s what she needs: through making new friends, taking a step away from everything, she figures things out.

When I first started this, I thought it would completely wreck me. Being an overworked and underappreciated working mother is something I definitely can identify with. But, rather than finding it difficult to get through, I found myself drawn into Maribeth’s story, her history, her fears and hopes, and the ways in which she was carrying her grief and anger. I was pulled into the characters that Forman created for Maribeth to befriend in Pittsburgh. I appreciated that everyone was complex and multi-faceted; no one was wholly in the wrong, including Maribeth herself.

I truly enjoyed it, which is unusual for me when it comes to adult books. Perhaps it’s because Forman is generally a YA writer, and this just felt like a more mature YA — a focus on character and moving the plot forward, rather than just pages and pages of, well, boring drivel. Either way, this is definitely one to check out.

Red Butterfly

by A. L. Sonnichsen
First sentence: “Mama used to have a piano
with an on/off switch
and a dial to make drums beat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: It’s pretty long, which will turn some readers off, though it’s in verse, which makes it easier to read (but also might turn readers off). The Chinese words, while spelled phonetically, might also be a deterrent. It’s in the middle grade (grades  3-5) section of the bookstore.

Kara was abandoned at birth, and in China, that generally means certain death. Especially since she is a girl and born with a deformed hand. But a kind, elderly American woman living in Tianjin took Kara in. Now, eleven years later, Kara is wondering why Mama never leaves the house, why she has never gone to school, and why they can’t leave to go join Daddy in Montana.

It takes a while for things to spill out: Mama is always telling Kara to be content with what she has, and not long for something more, but things do eventually come to light. In China, one needs papers to be a legal resident. Kara, because she was abandoned and rescued, has none. And so, they’ve been in hiding all these years.

On the one hand, I enjoyed this peek into China, especially the lives of those children who are neglected and abandoned to the orphanages because of the one-child laws. It’s told in verse, which suits Kara’s contemplative nature and her desire to figure out who she is and where she belongs.  I liked the people Kara met and her interactions in the orphanages.

However, while I got to know Kara and her story, it felt, well… too American. An American pulled her off the streets when she was a baby. She befriended a New Zealander worker in the orphanage (not American, but English-speaking/Western). She ended up in Florida with a second adoptive family. There were Chinese characters, but they were almost afterthoughts in Kara’s life. And while I understood why, I was sad not to get to know China or the Chinese.

It wasn’t bad, overall, but it wasn’t my favorite either.

Arcady’s Goal

by Eugene Yelchin
First sentence: “I’m a risk taker.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:

Arcady is the best soccer player. Period. So much so, that when the inspectors of the home he’s been placed in come, the director makes a show out of Arcady’s skills. He — Arcady calls him Butterball — puts Arcady up against increasingly larger players, expecting him to beat them. And he does.

But, when one inspector, who’s not quite like the others, comes to visit, Arcady ends up being adopted. Which is not something Arcady bargained on. Nor he he bargain that his new father, Ivan Ivanovich, comes with secrets of his own.

One of the things Yelchin does best is humanize Stalin’s Russia. It’s so easy to push everything from that era off into Things/People were Bad. And Stalin put everyone in concentration camps. But, Yelchin gives us the stories of the children — Arcady ended up in a home because his parents were taken for being enemies of the state — and how Stalin’s policies affected everyday life. They’re simple stories, but they paint a picture of a people who were wronged — even if they weren’t taken — by their leader.

It’s a simple little book, full of illustrations. And there’s a lot of talk about soccer, so there’s an appeal for the soccer lovers. But mostly it’s a portrait of a relationship between to damaged people, and the path to healing.

Greenglass House

by Kate Milford
First sentence: “There is a right way to do things and a wrong way if you’re going to run a hotel in a smuggler’s town.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s nothing in the usual objectionable categories. However, it’s a slow book, especially at the start, and there’s some confusion sometimes when the characters switch names. That said, a good reader who loves mysteries would really like this one. It would be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I wouldn’t be adverse to putting it in the YA (grades 6-8) section either.

Milo and his parents run an inn at the top of a hill overlooking a river just outside of the fictional town of Nagspeake. The thing that makes their inn special is that it’s a safe having for smugglers. Milo and Mr. and Mrs. Pine know how to keep secrets.

However, it’s winter break, and Milo is looking forward to spending time alone with his parents. Without guests. So, he’s predictably disappointed when four guests, one right after another, show up for the winter.

Soon, they are in full swing, and have to bring up their usual cook, with her daughter, who just happens to be Milo’s age. Soon he and Meddy find themselves embroiled in an adventure and a mystery: figuring out why each of the four guests are there, their connection with the old house that Milo’s parents inherited, and who keeps stealing stuff.

The comparisons to Westing Game that I’ve read are valid. There is a mystery to solve, and it’s a quietly clever one, with a twist that I should have seen coming, but didn’t. (As we all know, I’m not the most careful of readers.) But it’s more than a mystery: it’s a lovely book, full of stories and quiet adventures (Meddy and Milo play a Dungeons & Dragons-like game for most of the book). I’m impressed that Milford wrote such a compelling book on such a small scale; because of the weather, Milo and Meddy hardly ever leave the house. It’s a very bleak landscape (Think The Dark is Rising bleak), but Milford infuses it with both warmth and mystery.

One more thing: Milo is adopted. He’s of Chinese nationality with white parents, and he feels that difference keenly at this point in his life. So, it’s not only a book with a mystery, it’s a book about belonging and family.

I loved it.

Girl In Reverse

by Barbara Stuber
First sentence: “Say it, Lily.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing and kissing. It’s probably a more complicated plot than the Middle Grade section warrants, so it’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Lillian Firestone is an adopted daughter of Chinese heritage. Which makes her a target in Kansas City in 1951, the height of the Korean War. She took the bullying and name-calling when she was younger, but now that she’s 16, she’s taking a stand. Sort of. She walked out of class and school one day, and that act started a domino chain of events that led to the discovery of her birth parents.

There’s art involved and a lot of Chinese culture as Lily goes on this journey.

(I’m tired. Can you tell?)

I wanted to like this book. I love the cover, I love the ideas, the conflict. But I could never connect with Lily. She drove. me. nuts. Completely. And so I started skimming, skipping ahead just to see what happens. And yeah, everything’s tied up in a nice little bow.

It had potential, and I’m sure some readers will really love the art and China elements. But I wasn’t really one of them.