Cronin, famous for solving cow communication problems with a typewriter in Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (2000) and sequels, offers her debut middle-grade novel illuminating human communication problems.
Nora, 12, blackmails her cousin Riley, 13, into riding with her on the Cyclone, the Coney Island amusement park’s legendary roller coaster—and as soon as Riley steps off, she collapses from a stroke and is hospitalized, partially paralyzed and nearly unable to speak. In the waiting room, Nora meets Jack, a caring young teen, who says his younger brother is in the ICU with leukemia—although, sadly, he’s not telling the full story. Riley’s hospital stay drags on, including ample medical detail, and Nora’s and Riley’s mothers’ other sister arrives, ballooning the already-substantial tension. As Riley begins to talk a bit, most of her words are, astonishingly, in Spanish, dredged up from her middle school language lessons; only her Latina roommate, Sophia, is able to understand her. (Sophia and some hospital staff aside, the characters all appear to be white.) It’s only time, learning to listen, and a bit of emerging maturity that help Nora resolve these many communication problems, discovering poignant, hidden-in-plain-sight truths along the way. Her honest first-person (and thoroughly footnoted) voice believably moves from defensive and guilt-ridden to perceptive and empathetic as her understanding grows.
A sensitive exploration of the high costs of failing to really connect with those around us. (Fiction. 10-14)