A rambling girl learns the meaning of home.
Home-schooled Derby Christmas Clark, 11, lives and travels year-round with her jovial single dad and 7-year-old brother in their Rambler RV. Every summer the white family returns to the same rural Virginia town, where, outside the run-down baseball stadium, the family sells hamburgers and fries to fans of the local minor league team. Having made this stop for years, the Clarks know the town and its citizens well. Derby is especially close to African-American Marcus, seemingly her age, and grandmotherly June, the box-office manager, also African-American. This particular summer brings unhappy news. Derby resolves to fix problems and effect change with the aid of family and friends; in the process, she uncovers some long-untold secrets. The plot unfolds over the course of two weeks in an unspecified year in June, and Derby recounts events and her thoughts in first person. Her simile-laden voice is genial and humorous, but her aphorisms and epiphanies about herself and others often seem too grown-up and self-aware. While Derby’s well-realized, other characters are drawn more superficially; some seem like stock types. Interpersonal relationships and the novel’s nostalgic sensibility evoke a cozy feel. The unoriginal plot—kid discovers family and home are wherever she is and galvanizes a whole town into helping a beloved neighbor—is satisfying, as is the pat happy ending.
Fans of quiet, nostalgic stories about team spirit should enjoy this debut effort. (Fiction. 10-12)