Lajeunesse (In Her Mother’s Shoes, 2012, etc.) offers a novel about an orphaned 8-year-old and her grandparent guardians.
On the last evening of her vacation at her maternal grandparents’ house in Saratoga Springs, New York, young Sarah Crawford overhears her grandmother discussing her eagerness to sell their house and travel in her imminent retirement. An unspeakable tragedy occurs the next morning: a car accident that kills Sarah’s parents and her younger brother. After Sarah recovers somewhat from her injuries and learns that she will live with her grandparents, all she can think is how much her grandparents must resent her presence; raising a fourth-grader isn’t how they planned to spend their retirement years. In truth, Sarah’s fears aren’t unwarranted—her grandmother, Marian, in particular, feels ill-equipped for the challenges of parenting in her 60s. Her saintly husband, Ed, however, uncomplainingly deals not only with his own grief but also legal challenges from those seeking to profit from the horrible accident: the intoxicated driver who caused it believes that he can successfully countersue, and Sarah’s paternal grandparents suddenly want custody of Sarah, whom they barely know. As much as Marian and Ed wish to avoid it, they’re forced to take Sarah back to her old house in Seattle, and this helps Marian and Ed break through Sarah’s emotional barricades. Young Sarah is an appealing, memorable character who copes with injury, loss, and even bullying by other kids with admirable aplomb. Marian, despite her expressed concerns, is relatable as she deals with her problems—first with prescription medication, then with food—before she has a breakthrough that allows her to take control of her life. The wonderful Ed, however, is almost too perfect to believe. Also, in one surprising, implausible scene, Ed, Marian, and Sarah meet with the man who caused the accident, but without displaying any anger or real emotion.
An often heart-wrenching tear-jerker that, at its best, evokes hope and optimism.