Hot on the heels of a conversation I had with a friend about confusion—even among some publishing professionals—regarding critical differences between YA and middle grade book themes (the Harry Potter books YA? Uh, I don’t think so), I finished this touching tale. Yes, it’s a middle grade novel. How can you tell? For one thing, there’s no sex in it—not a whiff. And yet, its theme is a deeply turbulent. It begins after a tragedy in the family of a 12-year-old boy, and may be leading up to another, highly personal tragedy…unless seemingly insurmountable challenges can be overcome.
The challenges, in no particular order: a mother who is losing her mind; a dad who is increasingly sullen and unloving as the story progresses; a stranger who offers potential salvation in return for betrayal; a helpless girl who seems impossible to save; and the loss of an important friendship that may never be recovered. And yet…there is salvation, despite a spate of bad decisions that stem from problems too big for a child to have to solve on his own. Through the pages the protagonist slogs, imperfect but deserving of the reader’s compassion. Though the ending is not exactly tidy—what middle grade readers already know to expect from the fairy tales of their younger reading days; in fact, this book is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale—it is safe and satisfying nonetheless. Yet another crucial distinction between YA and middle grade fiction.
You and your kids read any great books lately? Write in and let us know!