An amiable fifth grader’s school assignment leads her to seek out the father she’s never known.
Lola and her single mom occupy a mobile home in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, owned by elderly neighbor and friend Ms. Archambault. All Lola knows about her Australian dad is his name and that, having overstayed his tourist visa, he was deported before her birth. Momma’s uncomfortable talking about him and, lately, too tired to do much beyond her evening restaurant job. Lola’s friends include classmates Kiana, her BFF, and friendly Nick (but not unfriendly, universally disliked Mallory). Tiffany, 5, whom Lola reads to on the school bus; Ms. A, who cares for Lola after school; Kiana’s parents; and Nick’s sister, Kat, are Lola fans, too. A class assignment—to imagine who they’d be under different life circumstances—reminds Lola how little she knows of her own history, prompting her to attempt connecting with her father. Kiana, Nick, and Kat are happy to help, but Lola avoids telling Momma, now sidelined by a serious illness. The characters are well drawn and believable, although John avoids naming race or even physical descriptions, reinforcing a white default reading. Cheerful Lola’s refreshing: a well-liked, kind, sensible kid with a droll take on the world. If the ending feels pat, the resolution too easily achieved, the scattered subplots involving class, entitlement, and autonomy leave readers something meatier to ponder.
Comfortably low-key, character-driven entertainment. (Fiction. 8-12)