Judith—called Jubilee by Aunt Cora and No-Talk-Girl by the 5-year-old brother of her former friend, Sophie—narrates her own tale of personal growth during fifth grade.
The redheaded white girl’s life on an island off Maine’s coast seems idyllic; she spends her time swimming, exploring, and drawing cartoons (which, in a nice touch, appear throughout). Adoring Aunt Cora lavishes praise on her niece and allows Jubilee such indulgences as immediate adoption of a stray dog, stealing away independently to the mainland, and even deciding whether Cora should marry the lovable ferryman, Gideon. However, Jubilee is obsessed with the apparent cause of her selective mutism: feelings of abandonment when her mother left her, as a toddler, with Cora. On Jubilee’s first day in a “regular” instead of “special” class, her amazingly supportive teacher talks about “firsts.” Jubilee thinks, “If I could have a year of firsts, I’d see my mother. Sophie and I would be friends again. I’d speak!” In Jubilee, Giff demonstrates an acute understanding of how people—especially children—can be extremely observant but at the same time misunderstand the behaviors they observe. However, until nearly the end, Jubilee’s introspection borders on self-pity, which risks alienating readers who are comfortably living in alternative families. The prose is graceful and brimming with potent physical details, but the adults are alarmingly mature—except for Jubilee’s birth mother.
An appealing story weighed down by its protagonist’s self-pity. (Fiction. 8-12)