What if, in not keeping a promise to God, you make a deal with the devil?
Ten-year-old Cadence Mariah Jolly, named after singer Mariah Carey, belies her name: she suffers from near-deleterious social anxiety, especially after her mother left her, her father, older brother, and the small town of Harmony, Pennsylvania, to pursue a singing career. The solicitous, diverse townspeople—from the African-American Trinity Sisters and server Sofine to Chinese-American classmate Mei-Mei’s mother—who dote on the black family with pity and prayer don’t know that Cadence’s mother left her with another gift: the ability to sing…mostly because Cadence is terrified to use it. When she initially prays for a keyboard and microphone, she makes a deal with God that if she gets them she would indeed share her talent, but she vacillates as opportunities, such as graduating to the Youth Choir, appear. When Cadence inadvertently sings in front of her best friends, Zara and Faith, one of them tries to exploit the main character’s shyness for her own chance at fame. Though some may feel Winston overdoes the musical names (in addition to Cadence, there’s her dog, Lyra, and the choir assistant, Miss Stravinski), she creates a rich and winning first-person story about a deeply introverted black girl who nearly loses her gift because of her understandable but undermining fear.
Readers will be rooting for both Cadence as she claims her gift and the community who supports her. (Fiction. 8-12)