Instead of having a grand time at camp, Leah’s wandering aimlessly this hot Atlanta summer, overwhelmed by complicated grief.
Leah, a white Jewish 13-year-old, has been going through the motions of friendship this past year. Ever since her kid brother drowned last summer, she’s been drifting through the world like a ghost, with no help from her equally broken parents. With all her friends off enjoying their summer plans, Leah first enjoys the depressive nothingness of a plan-free vacation but is eventually driven out of the house by boredom. And it’s then, on an overgrown farm hidden near her wealthy corner of the city, that she first meets Jasper, who's 14. Jasper, an almost magical-seeming white redhead who does her laundry in the creek, evokes fairy tales for Leah. In the overgrown cottage where Jasper lives alone, Leah feels like she’s in the Vine Realm, having the kind of adventure “every kid fantasizes about.” But Jasper is on the run from a terrible home situation, and while she treasures her friendship with Leah, she still wants Leah to remember that she is homeless: “We aren’t playing Narnia or Hogwarts.” It takes Leah a long time to understand that the fantastical beauty she sees in Jasper’s overgrown encampment is really a desperate reality, but thanks to Snyder’s careful symbolism and meticulous tracking of class markers, children will see it before she does.
With echoes of Bridge to Terabithia, a nuanced exploration of the tension between enchantment and reality. (Fiction. 10-12)