In this middle-grade novel, a young girl embarks on a mission with new friends to save and share her late mother’s unpublished manuscripts.
Twelve-year-old Ellie Kerr has just moved back to the United States after living in Paris for four years, and she has a mission. Her mom, who recently succumbed to ovarian cancer, left behind an unpublished series of stories about “kids who travel and save the world,” along with a pile of publishers’ rejection letters. Ellie is determined to get them published, but she can’t access the manuscripts from Mom’s computer. Oddly, her mother secretly changed the password before she died, and the security protocol protecting it will destroy all of the computer’s data after too many consecutive wrong guesses. Even dad’s intelligence agency-trained, computer-whiz assistant can’t hack the system. Ellie, with the help of her new friends from school, aims to find the answer to the mystery. It turns out to be proof of her mother’s deep love and respect for her—and a reminder that inclusiveness and kindness can always defeat fear. Aertker (Priceless, 2016, etc.) threads this message fairly evenly throughout the narrative, although his characterization of Ellie’s xenophobic school principal is too heavy-handed to make a later about-face credible. Also, the novel’s heroic depiction of a real-life publisher strikes a promotional tone. However, the book’s first half, in which Ellie relives her time in Paris, will have a powerful impact on readers. As Ellie’s happiness at home and at her multicultural school fades with her mother’s illness, Aertker doesn’t sugarcoat Ellie’s perspective. The physical and emotional toll on Mom, and Ellie’s emotional ups and downs as she experiences shock, denial, hope, anger, and grief, have a poignant authenticity. The author also offers other sympathetic characters, including Munda, a cook and aspiring medical student from the West Indies, and Ellie’s father’s driver, Antoine, a cello-playing jazz musician.
A frank, moving observation of a young daughter remembering her mother with purpose and strength.