On a road trip to Nashville to sing in a competition judged by the father she’s never met, 11-year-old Maybelle Lane finds courage she didn’t know she had—and it’s contagious.
The panic-prone narrator’s mother warns her: “nothing good will come” from learning anything more about the father she’s only known as a radio voice. But when she hears about his role in the upcoming contest, she can’t resist signing up. Unexpectedly, her neighbor Mrs. Boggs agrees to drive her there from their trailer-park home in Louisiana. Mrs. Boggs is the strictest teacher in her school, but she has a heart. She even allows Tommy O’Brien, a detested classmate with a difficult home life, to come along after he stows away in the RV. These are well-developed, complex characters who all grow and change over the course of their road trip. The two children are white; Mrs. Boggs is an African American widow, still mourning her husband but strong in other ways. She addresses a stranger’s casual racism directly and quellingly, explaining to Maybelle: “If you’re going to control twenty wriggly eleven-year-olds, you better know how to command a room.” Lonely Maybelle is a budding musician who collects sounds on her old-fashioned tape recorder, labeling the collection she makes on their trip “the sound of happiness,” reflecting her growing maturity in the face of the mission’s mixed success.
A rich and rewarding debut. (Fiction. 8-12)