A serious story about child abuse gets lost in Hannigan's (Ida B) overlong novel that too often crosses the line from quirky to twee. After a childhood clashing with her parents, school, and police for offenses ranging from self-harm to brownie theft, 11-year-old Delaware Pattison is one strike from being sent to some unspecified "away." The fifth of six children (all named after places), Delly, as she's known, needs more attention from her working parents. Instead she latches onto new girl Ferris, who has an androgynous appearance, does not speak, and cannot be touched. Despite these hurdles, Delly makes Ferris her project. Delly has an extensive vocabulary of made-up words like chizzle and hideawaysis (a three-page glossary is appended), which gives her a cartoonish quality that is an uneasy fit with the gravity of the underlying plot. Many questions are left unanswered: where is Ferris's mother? why do teachers accept that Ferris cannot talk or be touched without further inquiry? After a lengthy setup, the ending feels rushed, dulling the impact of its important message about speaking up when someone is in danger. Ages 8–12. (May)
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Small, impetuous, and imaginative Delly Pattison has gotten into trouble so many times that she has driven her mother to tears. Try as she might, nothing seems to work for Delly until an enigma named Ferris Boyd joins her fifth grade class. At first Delly mistakes Ferris for a boy, and wonders why her new classmate doesn't speak or want anyone to touch her. Slowly, over the course of the school year and the following summer, trust develops between Delly, her little brother RB, and Ferris. Their friendship grows strong. Delly and Ferris have opposite reactions to situations, and it is RB who becomes the bridge between the two personalities. Delly grows from a self-centered child to one who wants to shelter her friend from her abusive father. Hannigan develops the story both through the setting and the characters. Delly's compassionate and loving mother is a wonderful and wise character. A dictionary in the back of the book lists Delly's inventive words, such as "Dellyventure," and " hideawaysis." Do not be surprised if you hear some students using her no-cuss word, "bawlgrammit." The story leaves the reader with many thoughts about how we see ourselves, how we think others see us, how we hide within ourselves, what it means to be a "hummin bin," and the importance of trust and friendship in our lives. Hannigan has given her readers a real "surpresent." Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Are we defined by the labels others assign to us? Does friendship have the power to transform our lives? Hannigan tackles these questions and more in this story. Delly Pattison is strong on creativity, a dangerous thing since the idea of impulse control has never crossed her mind. Constantly being told how bad she is eventually makes for one angry kid, and when she is 11 and resorts to fistfights, she is on the verge of being sent to an alternative school. As she struggles to control her behavior, Delly begins to notice a new classmate. Ferris Boyd doesn't speak and can't be touched, yet the two bridge the gap. Trust and friendship follow, and are strong enough to handle crisis when it occurs. Told in carefully crafted language that begs to be read aloud, the story runs the gamut from laugh-out-loud funny to emotionally wrenching. Readers will likely be divided in their response to Delly's propensity for combining existing words into new ones; a present that's a surprise, for example, is a "surpresent." The same may be said of the touches of magical realism that occasionally advance the plot. Even those who quibble with bits and pieces will find meaty themes, a host of fleshed-out characters, and the same storyteller's ear that created Ida B. (Greenwillow, 2004).—Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL
Impetuous, mercurial Delaware Pattison, stuttering Brud and silent, lonely Ferris find an intertwined salvation.
Delly, an impulsive middle child loved by her parents and tagalong young brother, meets life on her own terms and with such self-centered focus that she bends language to suit and reflect her. A ride home inOfficer Tibbetts' squad car is a "Dellylivery"; "What the glub?" Delly exclaims, citing her "nocussictionary"; she anticipates "surpresents" especially for her; Ferris' treehouse is a "hideawaysis." (An appended glossary—Dellyictionary—offers 40 of these portmanteaux). Brud longs to shoot baskets like Ferris, a girl so silent and thin that both he and Delly think she's a boy. Ferris fascinates Delly with her solitude and ability to connect with wild creatures and Brud with her miraculous basketball skills. Delly's teachers, though aware of Ferris' elective mutism and fear of being touched, don't question the girl's safety at home. But Delly notices scars on Ferris's back and gets a bad feeling about Ferris' normal-seeming father. There's a lot going on, and Delly's quirky language occasionally threatens to obscure the plot. Ferris is rescued, at least temporarily, but young readers may be left wondering whether adults are truly capable of protecting them.
Plenty of action and dialogue carry this uneven story along.(Fiction. 9-12)