The Lost Girl

by Anne Ursu
First sentence: “Once upon a time, there were two sisters, alike in every way, except for all the ways they were different.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Iris and Lark are identical twins. And they’ve always been together, from the very start. They’re stronger together, and even though they are different, they help each other out. That is, until this year, their 5th grade year, when their parents (darn them!) decide that it would be better if Iris and Lark are in two different classes. That shakes both girls to their core, but Iris, who’s nominally our main character, is really having a tough time of it. And things get a lot more complicated when she starts frequenting a strange new antique store in town with an odd owner who says there is magic in the world.

I swear I read a tweet by Anne Ursu (who, if you don’t follow on Twitter, you should!) that this book was about girls and friendships and smashing the patriarchy, and I am totally here for all of that. It’s a seriously good book; the parents create conflict by being good parents (which is incredibly unusual) and by trying to stretch their twins in new ways. And it’s uncomfortable (do I really listen to my kids the way they want to be listened to?) and challenging and amazing and wonderful all at the same time. I adored Iris’s loud strength and courage and prickliness and Lark’s whimsical nature and quiet strength. But what I really loved was the way the girls banded together to overcome the conflict. Seriously. Usually in middle grade fiction, it’s the main character Facing the Challenge and Overcoming (maybe with a little help), but very rarely is it a group of kids who work together and are Awesome. Don’t underestimate the power of kids working together.

It’s such a fantastic, wonderful, gorgeous middle grade book.

The Trouble with Twins

troublewithtwinsby Kathryn Siebel
First sentence: “And so it begins in front of the fire, the story of two twin sisters.”
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Content: There’s some neglectful treatment of kids and some awful parenting, but nothing physically harmful. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Arabella and Henrietta are twins (in some distant past). Arabella is the beautiful, smart, sweet one and Henrietta is… not. (Before I get too much further, the better sister story, if maybe a bit more mature for this age group, is Jacob Have I Loved which is one of the more powerful reading memories I have as a child.) Henrietta is neglected, ignored, unloved. And so when she tries to get attention by cutting Arabella’s bangs off (they seem a bit old for those kind of shenanigans, but maybe that’s me projecting), she’s banished to Great-Aunt Priscilla’s house. Where she’s basically Cinderella. That is, until Arabella decides she misses her sister and goes looking.

It’s kind of a Lemony Snickett/Roald Dahl feeling book, where there’s bad adults (but not quite as bad as Dahl) who are neglectful and hate children and it’s the good, long-suffering child who gets the reward in the end. And in that light, it’s a good little book. The thing that got me was the intrusive narrator. Usually, I don’t mind them. But, this time the framing conversation between a mother and daughter just grated. I think it was meant to be cute, but it just didn’t work for me, and as a result the whole book fell flat.

I think I’ll see if any of my Dahl kids are interested in this one; maybe it’s just me being overly sensitive.