Every year, Alice celebrates her birthday week in February with her parents in a cottage on the beach in Sanibel, far from her snowy Wisconsin home.
This year, as she turns 10, the expected holiday company varies just enough to feel odd and challenging: The neighboring Wishmeiers’ grandchildren didn’t come; another neighbor is snowbound in New York; “aunt” Kate arrives with a new boyfriend and his six-year-old daughter in tow. Alice’s longed-for find, a prized junonia mollusk shell, never quite materializes as expected. Henkes’ deceptively economical language is rich and complex, cognizant of the ways that the world of adults reveals itself to children, aware of the emotional weight of objects. The third-person narration offers a sense of depth and story beyond the borders of the novel itself, providing distance enough for readers to draw their own conclusions. The author’s own drawings grace the cover and chapter openings; the overall book design is elegant and supremely comfortable for middle-grade readers. An only child surrounded by affection, routine and attention, Alice has the space to realize that life can be an adventure experienced independently, even while held closely by those one loves.Very few writers have such a keen understanding of the emotional lives of children; here Henkes is at the top of his game. (Fiction. 8-12)