Twelve-year-old twins Penny and Percy and adopted brother Pauly are spending the summer on their Uncle Stretch’s farm while their parents try to straighten out their messed-up lives.
Their parents imaginatively refer to this summer vacation as “Horse Camp,” but the horses are mean and the farm is much dirtier than any camp. Sanctimonious Penny, who relates her story through letters and a diary, hasn’t fallen far from her father’s tree—he’s a money-focused missionary Bible thumper with a heart that’s definitely not made of gold. Percy is less judgmental but viciously bullies preschooler Pauly and whines unpleasantly about any work he’s forced to do; he relates his side in alternating first person chapters. Both of them are trying to come to grips with their mother’s impending incarceration for illegally distributing medications to poor people in an attempt to alleviate their misery. Although both preteens are annoyingly obnoxious, the good will that surrounds them—in the form of earthy Stretch, his loving if sometimes unsophisticated girlfriend Sheryl and her cheerful, forgiving daughter June Bug—gradually alters their attitudes and results in a believable dual coming-of-age tale.
While Penny and Percy are easy to dislike, it’s nonetheless oddly amusing to watch their evolution into more decent people, especially since readers have the fun of viewing the change from the pair’s richly biased viewpoints. (Fiction. 10-15)