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by Jo Knowles

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5362-0003-4
Publisher: Candlewick

Her 14th summer teaches Rachel the meaning of the word bittersweet.

All her life she and her parents and her little sister, Ivy, who’s 8, have lived in an old farmhouse they’ve named Bittersweet Farm, for the vines on the property that her mother makes into wreaths. It’s not a working farm, but they have a big garden and an elderly rescue pony. Rachel’s mother has lost her job as a school librarian, so money is tight, but Rachel is chiefly concerned with her relationship with her best friend, Micah, who would love to be her boyfriend if Rachel allowed. Rachel isn’t sure of her sexuality, and she is anxious around schoolmates who are richer and more self-assured. She spends the summer at the nearby beach and caring for the animals on a rich neighbor’s hobby farm. Then their family loses their home to foreclosure. Told in Rachel’s authentically 13-year-old first-person voice, the story suffers from uneven pacing. At first readers are led to think that Rachel’s relationships and sexuality will be the story’s main focus. Whole chapters are spent describing the neighbor’s farm, which turns out to be unimportant to the plot, and the foreclosure, which turns out to be the primary plot point, isn’t mentioned until two-thirds of the way through the book. The economic stressors this default-white family faces are well-presented.

With pleasant but meandering writing and little urgency, this one’s best for character-oriented readers.

(Fiction. 8-12)