Fifth-grader Penelope Bach records her thoughts and experiences in a series of letters to her unborn sibling.
Penny, a white girl being raised by two mothers in Oakland, California, tracks the performance of her hometown basketball team, anguishes over a school assignment, struggles with changing friendships, and records the progress of her mother’s pregnancy. As the months pass, she learns a lot about the Ohlone, the local Native American tribe with which her nonbiological mother, Sammy, is affiliated, while simultaneously trying to trace her biological parents’ family histories. She also deals with prejudice because of her two moms and sees firsthand the racism that her Jamaican best friend, Gabby, and Gabby’s older brother (Penny’s secret crush) face. While Rocklin tackles important and topical issues, Penny’s voice and characterization are underdeveloped and thus overwhelmed by the messages she delivers. Other characters are similarly flat, making it difficult to become invested in their interactions, and dialogue is often stilted. Limited description keeps the setting from coming to life, while emotions and reactions are listed rather than evoked. Knisley’s black-and-white spot drawings range from depictions of the developing fetus to Penny’s teacher’s novelty ties. Many add humor and interest but can’t compensate for the text’s flaws.
Though clearly well-intentioned, this middle-grade novel seems unlikely to find an enthusiastic audience. (author’s note, bibliography, list of organizations) (Fiction. 10-12)