McCullough, who was a Morris YA Debut Award finalist for Blood Water Paint (2018), draws inspiration from her hometown of Seattle in her middle-grade debut.
On the surface, Sutton and Luis could not be more different. Sutton is a logic-ruled robot coder with a passion for hard science while Luis is a fantasy writer who uses his pen to go on adventures that his allergies prevent him from undertaking in real life. Both are from single-parent homes, and when their parents’ nascent romance grows serious, they are thrust together. Their first encounter is a bit of a bust as Sutton and Luis struggle to build rapport, but determined to give one another a second chance, the families decide on a hike. When the children are accidentally separated from the adults, they must learn to work together despite their differences in order to make it to their rendezvous point safely, in the process learning to confront problems and think with empathy and creativity. With chapters switching narrative focus between the two protagonists, their inner turmoil is handled with sensitivity, creating a character-driven tale that doesn’t skimp on plot. While Luis’ issues with severe allergies are explicit, Sutton’s struggles with emotional expression and sensory overload are never given a name, though they are likely to resonate with readers on the autism spectrum. Luis is mixed-race Latinx and white, Sutton is white, and the supporting cast includes Asian and LGBTQ friends and neighbors. The notable representation of female characters in diverse STEM fields is heartening.
Minor perils and likable characters make for a cozy and enjoyable read. (Fiction. 8-12)