When job opportunities prevent their parents from staying in Los Angeles for the summer, Zinnia, Marigold, and Lily are sent, unhappily, across the country to great-aunt Sunny’s.
Twelve-year-old Marigold aspires to a career in acting: she already has a bit television role and an agent. Eleven-year-old “Zinnie,” the middle sister, lives in Marigold’s shadow, wanting to be just like her. Lily, at 5, is cared for by a nanny. The culture shock of small coastal Pruet, Massachusetts—no television, no cellphone coverage, sharing one bedroom—lessens as the girls settle into its charm and ease, making friends, going to clambakes and dances, and even putting on a talent show. Beginning with its cover, the novel has an old-fashioned sweetness—a sweetness that avoids cloying by the quality of Howland’s writing and her character development, especially of Zinnie. For although Zinnie’s and Marigold’s voices alternate, this is more the middle sister’s story. Marigold grows, learning the shallowness of her favorite actress and the importance of family, but Zinnie is the one who steps out of the shadow of her sister, takes a risk, and discovers her own dream to follow.
An old-fashioned story well-told, with engaging characters—a beach read for preteens that is as comfortable as the old tennis shoes worn on the Massachusetts shore. (Fiction. 9-12)