In this middle-grade comedy, a girl comes of age living in Seattle with her little sisters and unorthodox parents.
From the beginning, Alex Roy designates her quirky story as an “exposé” of her family. She was born in 1971 to Walt and Jillian. They gave their daughters gender-neutral names in hopes of avoiding future job discrimination. But Alex’s parents are also somewhat peculiar, especially Jillian. She claims she’s from the planet Arvon, which is her excuse if a particular recipe doesn’t quite work: “It’s Arvonian Stew.” Alex grows up with two younger siblings: Casey, who routinely stirs up the most trouble, and Sammy, who, for the most part, looks up to her big sisters. The girls occasionally correspond with their chain-smoking great aunt, Hattie, whose letters primarily correct grammar, mostly Alex’s. This family story covers six years, ending just prior to Alex’s teens. During that time, the Roys get family pets; the sisters have their share of spats; and Alex and Casey spend a memorable (for readers, at least) summer with Hattie in Maine. The book ends with Walt and Jillian making a decision that will undoubtedly mean a drastic change for the entire family. Russell’s (Summer Island: A Tiara for the Taking, 2012, etc.) witty series opener consists of letters from every Roy, the girls’ diary entries and short stories, and Alex’s first-person narrative. Alex entertainingly delivers the tale in formats that include one-act family plays and periodic footnotes, which are at their most hilarious when summarizing Walt’s rather mundane letters. Though the author uses distinctive fonts to signify each family member’s voice, Russell’s prose accomplishes this all on its own. Casey’s snarkiness, for example, noticeably differs from Sammy’s general cheerfulness. Humor comes from all sides: Jillian who stubbornly pronounces silent letters, and Hattie pays for her grand nieces’ plane tickets by deducting them from Walt’s inheritance. Nevertheless, Casey is a standout; she’s charmingly defiant, exceedingly bright, and prone to declaring Hattie “positively diabolical.”
A delightful tale of a perceptive girl and her wonderfully odd family.