There are no surprises here, but it’s a heartwarming and uplifting story nonetheless.
Auggie (short for August, after her grandfather, Gus, who is raising her) thinks her neighbors and neighborhood are perfect. As she rides around with Gus in Old Glory, his trash-hauling truck, she excitedly anticipates her first day of fifth grade at a new school in a different part of town. But when she gets there, she realizes that her beloved neighborhood is actually the poor part of town, and worse, she feels ashamed. As she wrestles with her feelings, which are exacerbated by the defection of her best friend to the rich side, Gus and several neighbors receive notices from the town’s House Beautification Committee stating that their properties are in violation. Auggie determines to fight back and with Gus’ unstinting help, turns their house and yard into a folk-art extravaganza. Further clashes with the committee follow. Auggie’s present-tense, first-person narration, rife with similes, often comes off sounding more contrived than quirky, and the story’s numerous characters function more as formulaic devices rather than individual personalities. Additionally, the storyline concerning Auggie’s absent mother seems more tangential than imperative, and its revelatory windup comes as no surprise.
The story shines in its conclusion, however, with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve that forgives any predictability. (Fiction. 9-12)