Review posted July 14, 2012.
Balzer + Bray, 2012. 275 pages.
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Other Children's Fiction
I wasn't really attracted to this book by the cover. It looks like a feel-good story about girlfriends spending a summer at the beach. However, since I already think Sara Pennypacker's a genius because of her brilliant writing in the Clementine books, I knew I did want to read it. And since it was nominated for Capitol Choices, I read it sooner rather than later.
In the first 50 pages, I learned that this is actually a book about two 12-year-old girls planning to hide a dead body!
Stella came to her Great-Aunt Louise after her mother had been charged with neglect and was off on an adventure following what she said were job leads. Great-Aunt Louise had also taken in a foster child, Angel, to be company for Stella. That didn't work out very well, since the two were like oil and water.
From the living room, I heard Angel snort. She snorted every time I mentioned Heloise, which just went to show what kind of a person she was, since Heloise does nothing but good for people with her household hints column, helping them get their lives in order.
But then, it's almost the end of the school year, and Stella and Angel come home from school to find Louise sitting in her chair with the TV on, but it's the wrong show. Louise is dead.
Angel is not ready to go to another foster home. Stella doesn't have anywhere else to go. At first they're just going to put off having to leave, but one thing leads to another, and they decide to stay. They tell crazy fibs about what's wrong with Louise, and Stella, who's used to taking care of things for her mother, has no trouble with Louise's task of keeping the four summer cottages tidied up between customers.
This book is funny and sad and outrageous and poignant.
Once again, Sara Pennypacker's characters seem like completely real children. The way they react to the dead body that was Louise struck me as completely real. Here's where they try to prepare her for burial by bringing out all the jewelry she bought from the Home Shopping Network:
When it came to doing it, though, we couldn't. Neither one of us could touch Louise's neck or ears or wrists. In the end, we just tossed everything over her robe and then jumped back to the doorway. Her lap looked like a pirate's treasure chest, with necklaces and bracelets spilling all over her, and I thought, who wouldn't like that?
I'm glad I'm not on the Newbery committee this year, because I'd have an awful time deciding between this book and Wonder and The One and Only Ivan. On the other hand, I'd have to read these brilliant books several times, which would be a treat.