Saturday, March 16, 2019

Book Review: The Astonishing Maybe by Shaunta Grimes

Gideon has just moved from New Jersey to Nevada at the beginning of summer. Since school is out and he's not even allowed to cross the street on his bike, his only friend option is his next-door-neighbor, Roona. She's nice but a bit odd--wearing a baby blanket tied around her neck as a cape and rainbow-colored knee socks even though it's stiflingly hot. Very soon, Gideon and we readers realize Roona's got bigger problems and Gideon and Roona might be in over their heads in trying to solve them.

Overall, this is a wonderful, albeit somewhat difficult novel, perfect for kids who like realistic and heartbreaking stories. There's an element of magical realism in the book that doesn't really go anywhere--Roona's mother bakes for the whole town and when she's upset, her feelings go into her baked goods--and it's primed to be a major plot point at the climax, but that is literally dashed to pieces and isn't mentioned again. But this is a minor quibble.

It's very realistic in the best ways. In other middle grade books I've read recently, even ones that are ostensibly realistic, I knew everything was going to work out. Everything would slot into place and at the end (or close enough to the end that you could see it), everyone would be happy. This book isn't like that. Readers have a serious worry that things won't work out. And a couple of really, really not-good things do happen. And in the end, even though there's a satisfactory resolution, and you know things will in the very long run probably be okay, nothing is tied up neatly in a bow, and several people are not happy or have a strong chance of being not happy. Sorry for all the vague-ness but I don't want to give away spoilers.

As with a lot of great middle grade books dealing with difficult subjects, the main character, Gideon, is a step removed, giving us perspective and safety in the reading. In the meantime, through his worrying over Roona, he understands his mother better and her worrying over things like him biking across the street. While the book isn't perfect--the little sister doesn't have much purpose and the cover is too cheerful--its heart is enormous and its issues are important and its insights are powerful. It might cause some of the most sensitive kids anxiety, but it's also easy to argue that since you can't protect them from bad things forever, this is great exposure in a safe, discussable way to some problems they or their friends might face down the road, and it's very important for kids to be prepared emotionally and intellectually, to deal with the inevitable bad stuff. I sometimes wish I could have a magic cape when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I hope Roona gets the support she and her mother desperately need.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book is published by Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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