Weisskoff’s debut middle-grade novel takes newly orphaned Mia through raw grief and custody battles with gentleness and skill.
“How’s this for a birthday present?” asks 12-year-old Mia, whose day with her artsy Grandpa Ron is supposed to end with her parents’ taking her and BFF Samantha out for sushi. Instead, a phone call shatters her life—a car accident has killed both her parents. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Mia struggles with school and her future. She’d rather stay with her widowed grandfather in Oakland, Calif., but her mother’s folks, Alan and Ilene, want her to live with them in New York City. Complicating matters further, her Grandpa Alan loathes Grandpa Ron, and the former, a workaholic lawyer, is used to getting his way. Besides, Mia’s not sure her California grandpa wants her around anyway. Unable to bring up her fears in her new, perhaps temporary, home, she brings her troubles to the school’s guidance counselor, Ana, and—though Mia’s not a churchgoer—a young priest named Armando. While the appearance of a priest often signals an overtly religious novel, or shows the clergyman to be hypocritical at best, Armando guides Mia through her grief and guilt without pushing an agenda. He’s a refreshing, often funny character. In fact, characterization across the board is solid; Mia’s narration is never less than believable, and everyone else is distinct and has a unique inner life. Weisskoff’s mise-en-scène compels as well, as in a passage set in Grandpa Ron’s attic atelier, where he’s moved Mia’s telescope. As the two stargaze through a broken window, Mia’s able to pass the knowledge of the night sky she gained from her father along to his father. It’s a touching moment, with the clear chime of truth.
Packs real emotional weight into its slim pages and escapes the didactic tone of some “issue” novels. A promising debut in realistic youth fiction.