Another installment in the life of preternaturally wise military brat Katie Nash (Joy School, 1997, etc.), who over a summer and fall learns about friendship and love: a story that’s more well-intentioned manual of life-lessons than engaging drama of adolescent turbulence.
Katie, now 13 and living in St. Louis, misses her former home, Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, where her mother died and her best friend Cherylanne lives. Dad, who had a rough childhood, is still playing the heavy, but stepmother Ginger, a model of tact and insight, seems to be softening him up. Katie’s only friend is Cynthia O’ Connell, a loser though she does share Katie’s liking for poetry—but also has a pathetic mother determined to start a Girl Scout troop (afraid of the outdoors, she plans overnight camping in her living room). As summer begins, Dad insists that Katie work two jobs: helping old Mr. Randolph, a retired teacher, with his bedridden wife; and babysitting the three Wexler boys. Not Katie’s ideal jobs, but she buckles under and finds them more rewarding than she expected. Mr. and Mrs. Randolph are still deeply in love, though they’ve been married for eons, and Katie learns that “In some couples, each puts the other first.” Not like the Wexlers, whose boys are fun to babysit once Katie figures out that they like playing games, but whose marriage nearly ends that summer. A trip back to see Cherylanne affords more life-lessons—that Cherylanne isn’t as smart as Cynthia, that she doesn’t appreciate poetry, and that friendships change. Cherylanne has troubles too—she’s pregnant and must get married. In the fall, Katie, now attending a snobby private school, is mean to Cynthia. But she really wants to be good, confesses her sins to a friendly priest, and, realizing how much she values Cynthia’s friendship, tries to win her back.
Insights that seem too easily won in a slick story that skims the surface.