From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, November 19, 2007:
"This intimate story realistically examines friendship, family secrets and the struggles of a learning-disability child trying to make sense fo the world."
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2007:
"An engrossing examination of a profound theme in the deft hands of a discerning author."
Interview, The New York Times: In the Region, February 3, 2008:
"Handling difficult subjects with sensitivity is Mrs. Giff’s specialty. If she has tried to drive home a single point in all her stories, it is that ordinary people are special — and that children, most of all, need to feel that way."
The day before he turns 11, Sam searches the attic for hidden birthday presents and discovers more than he bargained for: a newspaper clipping showing a photograph of him as a missing child. In this exquisitely rendered story of self-discovery, Giff (Lily's Crossing) creates what she calls a "jig-saw puzzle" of a book, showing readers how Sam pieces together artifacts and his own flashbacks to find out whether Mack, the man he has lived with for as long as he can remember, really is his grandfather. Learning the truth requires research, and Sam, a special-needs student who has trouble reading, solicits help from Caroline, a new girl at school. As they embark on two projects-building a medieval castle for social studies and solving the mystery of Sam's past-they also construct a solid friendship, despite Caroline's parents' plans for another, imminent move. Although the premise echoes that of Caroline Cooney's The Face on the Milk Carton, the similarity ends there. Evoking an entirely different mood and set of circumstances, this intimate story realistically examines friendship, family secrets and the struggles of a learning-disabled child trying to make sense of the world. Given the author's expertise at developing sympathetic characters and creating a suspenseful plot, readers will find the complexity of Sam's vulnerabilities to be as intriguing as the unfolding enigma of his past. Ages 8-13. (Jan.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
AGERANGE: Ages 9 to 12.
Almost eleven, Sam still struggles to read and make sense of his strange dreams of boats, water, storms, and a castle-like building. Embarrassed by having to go to the Resource Room every afternoon but wondering about the clipping that he has discovered in an attic trunk, he becomes determined to make sense of the sticks and squiggles on paper. Caroline, a new girl in class, seems as much a loner as he but Sam comes to trust her. While working on the joint project, Sam gradually learns to make sense of words. Caroline's own set of problems (a family that frequently moves because of a painter father, and reluctance to make friends in new places), come to light as they work together on building a castle model for their medieval history project. She records what they do in a journal while Sam does the actual building. The castle binds them together and each grows stronger individually. Gradually, the castle helps Sam make sense of his dreams, while the work helps Caroline form a friendship and cope with the frequent moves. Giff's writing and chapter beginnings, each a poem, move the story along to its conclusion. The mystery of Sam's family and coming to live with an extended hodge-podge--though warm and loving--mix of adults is told with warmth. Descriptions are vivid and characters both likeable and believable. The Resource Room teacher reaches out to Sam, seeing in him the determination needed to overcome his reading problem, which appears to be developmental, and letting readers understand that Sam has everything he needs to be successful in whatever he does. Reviewer: Leslie Greaves Radloff
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 14.
A secret search for hidden birthday presents leads almost-eleven Sam to the attic where he finds a newspaper photo of himself, age three, captioned "Missing" and with a different last name. Memories ignited by this discovery cause him to fearfully wonder about his true identity. Is Mack really his grandfather? Might someone take him away from Mack and friends Onji and Anima, whom he loves? And why does he have an indefinable anxiety about the number eleven? Although the resource teacher is kind, Sam has given up on reading. Who can help him decipher the clipping and piece together his other clues? Caroline, the new girl, warns him she will not be around long enough to be friends, but agrees to help him while at the same time they build a castle for a class project. Sam's extraordinary talent for working with wood has been nurtured by Mack, and the castle the two children build reveals yet another of Sam's memories. When Mack sees the finished castle for the first time, he realizes it is time to tell Sam how they came to be together. With elegance bestowed by the love and understanding of young hearts, Giff crafts an affecting story. As in her Newbery Honor-winner Lily's Crossing (Delacorte, 1997), two characters are needy in very different ways, yet each finds firmer footing at last through the shared journey of their friendship. The novel is a must-have for school and public libraries where young readers will see themselves and their friends in Sam and Caroline. Reviewer: Marla K. Unruh
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)