This is the story of Jane Fielding, a 12-year-old girl who lives with her single mother and her siblings in a house on the beach. Through the course of a summer, she goes through that change. You know the one. Where she slowly begins to create a life outside of her family. Where she realizes that the adults in her life are fallible. Where at the same time she is realizing her parent has secrets, she is gathering secrets of her own. It’s the classic coming-of-age story.
I appreciated the way in which Horvath shapes this story. She portrays that age as confusing, saddening, and heartbreaking…yet there’s magic, light, and beauty found in the midst of the sadness. As the reader, you’re both intimately involved with Jane’s adventures…yet it also seems as if you’re floating above her watching it all happen, slightly detached. How can you be both? I don’t know, but somehow Horvath does it.
This book reminded me of Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder: Adventures is written in vignettes with kooky unforgettable characters. This differs, though, in that there is a pensiveness to it, a certain naïveté and depth to the characters that I just didn’t get from Peck’s books. It’s all so bittersweet – you know the growing up must happen. Even Jane knows that the process of growing up has brought her so many adventures, and that is a wondrous thing. But there’s still sorrow about that with a side dish of worrying. There’s a bit of the adult perspective here, perhaps: as an adult reading this, I know where Jane is going in the growing-up process, and I’m reading this feeling nostalgic and sad for my own lost youth, feeling heartache for Jane because she is forever changed. A child reading this book will, no doubt, have an entirely different perspective. This is one of the most personal books I’ve read in a long time.
There are such beautifully crafted passages in this book; it’s difficult to choose just one to share with you or to extract it from the rest of the text. Nevertheless, I give you this gem:
So for now the house is still ours. But there is no joy. The house
is no longer a sanctuary. It may not always be a member of our
family. It may be taken from us as no family member can be, so what is it,
then? Only a house. I cannot afford to love it anymore.
That is one of the more melancholy passages but illustrates beautifully Jane’s lesson that part of growing up is making choices about what you will love and what you cannot. That sometimes you must close your heart to one thing so that you can give more to others. It’s incredibly poignant and totally believable that a 12-year-old has learned this lesson.
I felt a tight grip on my heart as I read that last page, and I was incredibly sad to have it end. Which is always the sign of a Good Read. And if I didn’t have a gargantuan stack of books waiting for me, I would immediately turn right back to the start of this one and read it all over again.
Welcome to my Tweendom
And read School Library Journal's review via Amazon. It's spot-on.
DISCLAIMER: I am compelled to add that I'm disappointed with my own review. I use variations of "sad" way too much, giving you the wrong impression about this book. It's uplifting and hopeful, I swear! Connie Tyrrell Burns put it perfectly in her SLJ review: Horvath is a "word alchemist."