This series starter from Gardner (author of Speak No Evil) introduces Katie McCabe, a rebellious and impetuous 13 year old from a small town who lives with her straight-laced but loving widower father—the local sheriff. Katie pushes every boundary, until her dad turns her world upside down by letting her know he is seriously ill and that, while he undergoes treatment, he’s sending Katie to live with her Uncle Charlie in an even smaller town. Katie is devastated at the thought of being sent away and frightened at the prospect of losing her father. At Charlie's farm, Katie’s determined to make so much trouble that they send her back. But when tragedy strikes,Katie is pulled between needing love from the only family she has left and punishing them for not being her father.
Along the way, impulsive Katie makes friends, enemies, and a lot of poor decisions before ultimately taking a heroic journey into a new life. She’s a compelling character, one whose strong will and temper lead her to lash out—and feel real remorse afterwards. Also strong is her cousin Sarah, who offers love and discipline in a motherly way that’s new to Katie; some of the novel’s most moving moments find Katie both drawn to Sarah's nurturing ways but intent on not complying with her, either. These are flawed, fascinating people young readers will relate to and care about, and Gardner offers enticing reasons to follow on their paths in future series entries.
While Katie’s everyday life is engaging, the novel also incorporates some suspense elements, including a kidnapping and tense scenes of wilderness survival, plus some mild violence, and several moments of bullying that young readers may (unfortunately) identify with. As she faces and endures these challenges, Katie draws on what she’s lost—and also touchingly begins to appreciate and trust what she’s gained.
Takeaway: Rebellious teen facing loss must learn to adapt, trust, and survive.
Comparable Titles: Dan Gemeinhart’s The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, Paul Griffin’s When Friendship Followed Me Home.
Production grades Cover: A- Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A Marketing copy: A
Praise for Author's Previous Works, 7th Grade Revolution: “Gr 5–8—A fun ride that combines treasure hunting, quick thinking, Revolutionary-era U.S. history, and teamwork. This novel reads like a National Treasure and Spy Kids movie combined. It has twists and turns. One of the novel's huge strengths is the kids banding together; in addition, each character has the opportunity to show individual skills and to grow as a person.” —School Library Journal
“... an exciting, smartly written book filled with adventure, intrigue, and history in a modern school setting. Luke Spooner’s accompanying art is simply spot on. I can’t wait for my daughter to read this, and there’s no higher compliment than that.” —Mercedes M. Yardley, Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author of Little Dead Red
The Journal of Angela Ashby: “Hilarious, startling, and sometimes unexpected ... filled with achingly relatable tween moments and gentle lessons about the power of friendship, understanding other people’s stories, and living with the consequences of one’s actions.” —Publishers Weekly
Speak No Evil: “Suspense and intrigue ... Melody’s story is grim, but hope is weaved in throughout ... highly emotional.” —School Library Journal
“Outstanding ... I had a tear in my eye on more than one occasion. A quite beautiful book I am very happy to champion by buying for my library.” —Ginger Nuts of Horror
“Gardner’s storytelling displays the same sort of sinister charm as she unravels Melody’s past to tell the story of her present. Speak No Evil is at once hypnotic, vaguely sinister, and decidedly beautiful, with sharp, poignant prose that handles the heaviest of issues with grace and delicacy.” —The Nerd Daily
Gardner’s YA novel follows a 13-year-old girl whose world is turned upside down when her terminally ill father sends her away to live with her uncle.
Katie McCabe is a troublemaker who causes her single-parent father, Ron—the town’s sheriff—seemingly endless strife. When she and her friend, Tommy, accidentally set a neighbor’s shed on fire while smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, her dad does the unimaginable: he arranges for her to live with her uncle, Charlie, and his family. As Katie reels from the devastating news, she discovers her father’s true reason for the decision—he has terminal cancer. The strength of this story is in the emotional intensity and complexity of Katie’s painful journey of self-discovery. The author explores the turbulent teen years masterfully, examining numerous themes that will surely resonate with young readers, including bullying, dealing with grief and loss, first love, and finding one’s place in the world. Additionally, Gardner does a good job of capturing the personality of a 13-year-old, particularly through the deft use of first-person POV; When Katie notes the school principal’s crooked bow tie, she thinks to herself: “He didn’t need any help being dorkified.” The novel’s thematic power, however, is undermined by its complete lack of specificity when it comes to time and place. Readers are given no indicators of when the story takes place or where it is set, which lends the narrative a groundless feel. This nebulosity gives rise to numerous questions that take the reader out of the story: Why doesn’t anyone have cellphones, although other electronic devices are referenced? Where are the security cameras at the school? Where is it commonplace to see a student on horseback at a middle school? Finally, the contrived nature of some of the plot points in the latter half of the novel rankles; to say the story’s events defy believability is an understatement.
Too many miscues hamper this novel’s potential to create a believable and endearing teen protagonist.