A sixth grade girl’s strange works of art, her interest in mysteries, and a dangerous bully embroil her in turmoil and adventure.
Part mystery, part fantasy, and part journey of self-discovery, this middle-grade novel focuses on a 12-year-old girl with an unusual gift. Gracie Cooper, who was adopted as a baby, stopped making realistic art in the first grade after her classmates’ paintings were found torn to shreds. Only Gracie’s was spared, but at home, she wondered why the ferocious wild animals she had painted now appeared to be sound asleep. Her alarmed mother cryptically made Gracie promise to draw and paint “nothing that exists in the world” from then on. Except for one secret painting, Gracie sticks to abstract art even after her mother dies. But a new art teacher’s insistence on realism gets Gracie in trouble when fresh fruit in her painting turns brown and she is accused of deliberately altering her work. The news that her best friend and fellow mystery buff is moving away adds to Gracie’s woes, as does the class bully. He taunts one girl for speaking Spanish instead of English (the characters are not otherwise identified by race or ethnicity) and targets Gracie with verbal and physical abuse. Then Gracie finds one of her creations very much alive in her mother’s sketchbook. As Gracie and her creation interact, the novel deftly draws readers into a fantastical journey through the world of the heroine’s vivid imagination, culminating in her determination to overcome fear and self-doubt in a life that will never be ordinary again. Throughout this well-crafted tale, Ralph (The Peculiar Circumstances Surrounding the Disappearance of the Extraordinary Jimmy Pickles, 2015, etc.), a former teacher and the author of fiction for children and young adults, offers imaginative twists and emotional resonance. He shapes Gracie’s still-grieving father and other adults and her relationship with her peers with informed empathy. And the author’s revelation of the origin of Gracie and her talent is a genuinely moving surprise.
An appealing young heroine discovers her own strengths in this seamless mix of fantasy, suspense, and real-life dilemmas.