Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #2)

I'm baaaack!

So sorry about the confusion in the posting earlier.  For a quick re-cap go here or just know that I'll be posting a book review for each day of our Summer Reading programs at the library. We're back on track now with book #2.

The Secret Tree
Author: Natalie Standiford
Published: 2012
Pages: 245
Age Range: 8-12
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Cover score: ***
Overall: ***
Rating: G

First Sentence: Ghosts can live anywhere.

Voodoo curses, a Man-Bat, a missing cat, The Witch Lady, and a strange boy who lives in an abandoned model home; these are just a few of the mysteries Minty encounters the summer just before she turns eleven.  Add to that a best friend who doesn't feel so 'best' most of the time, constant tormenting by the Mean Boys, and anxieties about starting middle school and Minty's life is in constant disarray.

At first she and Paz (the BFF) are preoccupied by their obsessions with roller derby, practicing new moves and routines in every spare minute.  But when a mysterious prowler leads Minty on a chase through the woods she finds a hollow tree with a scrap of paper in it. And on that paper is written a secret. A secret that will change Minty's life forever.

The prowler turns out to be just a kid, Raymond, who lives alone in the model home next door to The Witch Lady. Together Raymond and Minty compile of book of photos of everyone in the neighborhood and additional secrets they continue to find in the tree, matching each person to their secret after spying on them. Paz can't be bothered with childish games and abandons Minty for the older, more mature Isabelle, leaving Minty hurt and confused. Raymond has more than his share of secrets and Minty wonders if she's the only one who isn't hiding something.

Their snooping leads to a few misunderstandings but ultimately the truth outs and all is well.

Here's a sample of the text:

The next day, my life was one sentence different than it had been the day before.  I kept looking at people I was used to seeing every day, and I wondered whether they felt that nobody loved them except their goldfish. Or if they were international spies.  (pg 31)

"Bring your harmonica over next time and we can play together."
"I don't have a harmonica."
"Too bad," Raymond said. "Everybody needs a harmonica. It's like a little pocket friend.  Goes wherever you go."
  (pg 99) 
(**How could I not mention the harmonicas?!)

I was learning this thing about secrets: Even if they're not about you, once you know them, they feel like they could be about you.  Every secret connects to something inside of you, whether you know it at first or not.   (pg 148)

I was reminded of more than one book while reading this one...
  • the snooping and creating a book with everyone's secrets made me think of Harriet the Spy
  • the Man-Bat and various other neighborhood folklore made me think of Dandelion Wine
  • the secrets hidden in the hollow tree trunk instantly reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird
It had an old-fashioned sort of feel to it with the kids being allowed quite a bit of freedom to come and go all day long, but there were enough modern references to keep it safely out of that realm. The characters were believable and realistically portrayed even if the solutions to their problems weren't quite as realistic. I don't see this as becoming a classic but it's a great middle reader that will definitely find fans (especially in the all-too-small niche of young roller derby enthusiasts!)

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