A ten-year-old girl in a small Vermont town broadens her horizons while confronting the harsher reality presented by her new friendship with a young boy and an artist dying of AIDS.
Alice has grown up in a charmingly eccentric Victorian house surrounded by nature and a community of friends right out of a slightly updated Norman Rockwell. Since her mother’s death a month after Alice’s birth, she has been swaddled in protective love by her scholarly and seemingly perfect father, Archie, her five adoring older brothers and the family’s strict but lovable Vietnamese housekeeper. On the Memorial Day when Alice turns ten, her brothers build an elaborate rope-walk maze for her birthday party. One of the few other children at the party is Theo, the biracial grandson of some neighbors, visiting while his parents try to iron out marital difficulties. Theo’s grandfather, an otherwise “good” person, wants nothing to do with Theo because his father is black. When his wife has a stroke, he leaves Theo with Alice’s family indefinitely. Theo, a mix of impishness and vulnerability, is much more believable—and likable—than the cloyingly sensitive Alice. Another guest at Alice’s birthday party is Kenneth, who grew up with Archie, became a world-famous artist and has returned to live his last days in his sister’s house. Kenneth is immediately drawn to Alice. Mostly blind and very weak, he requests that she and Theo come read to him. Wanting to do something nice for Kenneth, the two children design and build their own rope walk. Unfortunately, Kenneth uses their walkway for a more unfortunate purpose. Archie, an imperfect father after all, sends Theo packing back to New York, but Theo and Alice find a way to remain friends.
Brown (Confinement, 2004, etc.) has a delicate flair for language and the telling detail, but her Hallmark Hall of Fame tendencies are sickly-sweet.