A 10-year-old girl and her grandparents share a special ability, which she’ll need when danger strikes in this middle-grade novel.
For Henrietta Jananne, always called Etta, summer means going to her grandparents’ cabin on Marmot Lake, which is “Etta’s favorite place in the entire world.” The alpine idyll is perfect for reading, fishing, drawing, relaxing, and hanging out with her beloved grandparents. This year, Etta’s parents worry that a bear has been near the cabin, but they allow her to stay, warning her repeatedly to be careful. On one walk, Etta’s comments about a rescued dog prompt Grandma to tell Grandpa “She has it, and I think she has it strong.” Sitting Etta down, her grandparents tell her some important family history. Her great-grandmother Morse had a special gift—she could talk with animals—and so can Grandpa, Grandma, and Etta herself. Though at first hard to believe, Etta discovers it’s true and works on honing her ability. A hike up to Jayden Peak with Grandpa turns dangerous when a snowstorm hits—and a deadly mountain lion is on the prowl. Surviving will require Etta’s gift and the help of some loyal animal friends. In his debut book, Collins offers a very appealing lead whose kind heart is recognized by all, including an animal: “You love me with honesty. You love me with spirit and with care. You listen to my ramblings about trees and stars, and I can tell that you take it all in, because you are a person who holds great respect for the world around you.” Some exciting scenes help balance the emotional ones, and Etta is never goody-goody or prim. Collins does a nice job of showing her courage and her playful side, as with the banter between Etta and her best friend, Sarah. The characterizations are well-drawn, including those of the animals, who don’t always conform to expectations—a fastidious raven, a serious chipmunk.
Combines warmth, adventure, and an intriguing special ability for a thoughtful, pleasing, and well-written coming-of-age story.