An anxious girl makes a mysterious summer friendship in this middle-grade debut.
After a school year of panic attacks and increasing anxiety, Annabel has been promised a summer free from her professor parents' overscheduling and demands. They stay as usual in their upstate New York cottage, but instead of spending her days at tennis camp and sailing camp, Annabel (now calling herself Annie) secretly befriends the visiting granddaughter of their reclusive farmer neighbor. Both girls are white. California (her grandfather calls her Catherine) explains that she's staying for the summer to see her grandfather through a cancer drug trial. California's mother and grandfather have long been estranged. California believes that the ponies her mother showed as a child are still alive, on the farm, and that if she can find them, her mother will come back and be reconciled. It's an odd conceit—there's no real explanation why California's grandfather wouldn't be up-front about the ponies. By the end of the summer it's clear that California, not her grandfather, is the one who's sick. Annie has put her anxiety aside in order to be a more outgoing friend. Unfortunately, the novel trades more in melodrama than believable relationships. Annie's mother, California's mother, and her grandfather all seem to act and react in order to further a plot rather than authentically, and Annie’s own personality is a sum of unsubstantiated fears.
Too much telling, not enough truth. (Fiction. 8-12)