A preteen deals with numerous changes in Wittlinger’s sleepy middle-grade novel.
Twelve-year-old Maisie loves classic Hollywood cinema with a passion. The only other people who love movies as much as she does are her best friend and neighbor, Cyrus, her actor uncle, Walt, and elderly Mr. Schmitz, the crotchety owner of the local movie theater. When Uncle Walt injures himself on set and moves in with Maisie’s family for the duration of his recovery, tensions at home run high. But that’s not all. Her grandmother is becoming dangerously forgetful while simultaneously rekindling an old romance with Mr. Schmitz. Her mother is laid off, and money becomes tight for their white, lower-middle-class family. Her friendship with Cyrus grows confusing as their classmate Gary worms his way into their circle. It seems closeted Cyrus has a crush on Gary, while Gary has a crush on Maisie, and Maisie isn’t sure she’s ready for any of them to be having crushes at all. Wittlinger’s narrative feels painfully out of touch: these kids have landline phone conversations; Maisie’s film references are overwhelmingly white. A handful of contemporary references (Inside Out, Kate McKinnon, among others) feel forced and land the book somewhere between the intentional nostalgia of The Penderwicks and a real embrace of present-day preteendom, never fully settling on a rhythm that feels right. Maisie’s small Illinois town is a largely white one.
A bland jumble. (Fiction. 8-12)