Elise must unlock her past to learn what she comes from before she can decide who she wants to be.
Before starting middle school, Elise was content in her own world with Franklin. Now, playing with him has become a liability and opens her up to bullying. An orphan, Elise lives with her aunt and uncle, in whose barn are eight locked doors. On her 12th birthday, she learns her father left messages behind those doors for her. Readers know that Elise lost her mother the day she was born and her father three years later, making her convenient discovery one that stretches believability. The messages in each room read like cryptic, inspirational self-help: Know What You Come From; Believe; Treasure Your Life. Using first-person narration, LaFleur quickly sketches Elise’s descent into depression and her growing ambivalence toward Franklin, but her characterization lacks depth. Thus, when Elise betrays Franklin and shuns a new baby in the house, she appears unsympathetic. Elise is too self-aware when she questions her new habit of calling Franklin names: “… did the name-calling come from a part of me that hadn’t healed?” As readers might expect, Elise begins to make life better: She stands up to the bully, develops a new friendship and salvages the old one.
This story of preteen angst contains many compelling, original moments that, unfortunately, do not combine for a realistic portrayal of blossoming maturity. (Fiction. 10-14)