SARAH SIMPSON’S RULES FOR LIVING

Twelve-year-old Sarah Simpson joins a long list of modern-day tweens buried under negative feelings about their parents’ recent divorce, feeling jilted by a father who has moved across the country with his new young wife. Encouraged to keep a journal, Sarah’s immediate self-description—“I have orange hair and I am fat”—introduces her poor self-image and feelings of rejection as she tries to follow her own “Rules,” which include drinking skim milk and avoiding blondes. Sarah’s unhappiness is displayed through her deadpan, stilted account of life creating numerous lists of cynical and gloomy statements. Themes of inner vs. outer beauty are paralleled with Sarah’s mother’s easy acceptance of her broken marriage remedied by her new and happy relationship with relaxed, environmentally conscious and slightly overweight Jonah. Minor characters include five-year-old George (Jonah’s son) and geeky classmate Horace Zimmerman, who bring balance to Sarah’s self-centered feelings of betrayal by both parents. Despite the short, unadorned, flat writing style, Rupp manages to develop her themes and character with enough emotional integrity to underscore the overall message that personal attitude can ultimately control the way we accept inevitable change in our lives. A quick read in the over-used diary-style middle-grade fiction with expanded potential for a series or even family discussion. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7636-3220-5

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2008

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  • Newbery Honor Book

BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE

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  • Newbery Honor Book

A 10-year old girl learns to adjust to a strange town, makes some fascinating friends, and fills the empty space in her heart thanks to a big old stray dog in this lyrical, moving, and enchanting book by a fresh new voice. India Opal’s mama left when she was only three, and her father, “the preacher,” is absorbed in his own loss and in the work of his new ministry at the Open-Arms Baptist Church of Naomi [Florida]. Enter Winn-Dixie, a dog who “looked like a big piece of old brown carpet that had been left out in the rain.” But, this dog had a grin “so big that it made him sneeze.” And, as Opal says, “It’s hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor.” Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal meets Miss Franny Block, an elderly lady whose papa built her a library of her own when she was just a little girl and she’s been the librarian ever since. Then, there’s nearly blind Gloria Dump, who hangs the empty bottle wreckage of her past from the mistake tree in her back yard. And, Otis, oh yes, Otis, whose music charms the gerbils, rabbits, snakes and lizards he’s let out of their cages in the pet store. Brush strokes of magical realism elevate this beyond a simple story of friendship to a well-crafted tale of community and fellowship, of sweetness, sorrow and hope. And, it’s funny, too. A real gem. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7636-0776-2

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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