A hint of magic and a dusting of faith turn this middle-grade novel into a true confection.
In Rowell’s debut, Abby and her grandmother (affectionately called “G-ma”) explore what it means to rely on yourself. In true Harry Potter style, Abby uses a book that allows her to follow a group of children into a magical realm, where they all learn about their own unique personalities. “Sparkle Rooms” allow them to explore the many possibilities inherent in their natures, and they eventually settle on characteristics with which they feel at peace. (For example, a child named Alex is a “thinker,” while Perk is more physical and athletic.) When Abby sees the kids again five years later, after they’ve become jaded preteens, they shine less: The world has taught them not to rely on their inner joy or their “God-Glow.” Abby faces her own sparkle-challenge when a cruel neighbor mocks her aspiration to become a Spanish dancer. It takes G-ma’s help, and another journey into the magical realm of Sparkle Rooms, for Abby to understand how to “shine in a world that prefers predictability over possibility.” The book’s style can be over-the-top and saccharine at times (“Everyone is so much happier when they remember to sparkle”). However, its lesson applies not just to children, but to everyone: We all decide whether we want to listen to ourselves or to those around us. Other touching, meaningful insights dot the pages, but the book’s real strength lies in its subtle psychological lessons about the ego. Throughout, it couches its ideas in relatable terms: “If I stop being me to make everyone else happy, I won’t even know who I am anymore.” This teaching, in particular, is applicable to all ages. Parents can read along with their kids, and try to remember what it felt like to shine from within.
An overly sweet but often thoughtful kids’ book.