Blended families that resist blending are a middle-grade–fiction staple, but this funny, gentle and compassionate story feels fresh, thanks to appealing, closely observed characters, both major and minor, and a compelling setting.
In alternating chapters, Diana and Stephanie describe their eventful week at a rustic North Carolina resort where Diana’s mom and Stephanie’s dad have arranged their new family’s first vacation. Both girls are entering eighth grade, but Diana, having repeated third grade, is older. Burdened with an unspecified mood disorder, she’s a difficult kid—inattentive, impetuous, angry—bonding more deeply with animals, especially horses, than people. Pretty, timid Stephanie is smart and kind but anxious about horses and river rafting; Diana tries her patience and exacerbates her fears. Each—her self-confidence shaken by family breakup and reconfiguration—pushes the other’s buttons until, in a rare bonding moment, they set two captive wolves free. However, the fallout from their “good deed” will have unpredictable consequences on those around them, human and animal. Mitigating the damage will take individual soul searching and cooperation. While drawing from several well-known Cherokee tales, Kline avoids didacticism; the girls’ discoveries, flowing from their natures and experience, feel earned. Recognizing how much of life they can’t control is tough but liberating, freeing them to focus on what is within their power: their own responses.
A fresh take on an old story. (Fiction. 8-12)