In this middle-grade drama, 11-year-old Tash returns home from summer camp to discover that Cap’n Jackie, the elderly next-door neighbor who’s helped raise her, has been admitted to a rehab facility following an accident. Still unsettled from a fight the two had before she left for camp, Tash can’t wait to make amends and have everything go back to normal. What will she do without her friend’s cookies, hugs, and fanciful stories? Unfortunately, Cap’n Jackie is unresponsive after undergoing hip surgery, and Tash must find a way to break through to her. She wonders if the magical key Cap’n Jackie once gave her might help. Schmatz (Lizard Radio) captures the uncertainty and turbulent emotions of a girl struggling with change and loss while examining the value of found family. Schmatz’s novel is heartfelt, but the letters and memories that depict Tash’s relationship with Cap’n Jackie fail to fully explore the true strength of their bond and its impact upon the story. Ages 8–12. Agent: David Bennett, Transatlantic Literary Agency. (May)
The novel will take some readers outside their comfort zones, into the sometimes scary arena of health care facilities and the never-easy subject of death. But the strong presentation of Tash’s viewpoint is reassuring, and so is the straightforward depiction of her discomfort, anger, jealousy, remorse, reconciliation, and sadness. A simply written, emotionally resonant narrative.
—Booklist (starred review)
The author skilfully creates empathy for the prickly Tash, a complex and challenging character...Readers will relate to Tash's grit in finding a way to deal with life when it doesn't go to plan.
Traumatized by past neglect at the hands of an alcoholic parent, an "almost-sixth-grader" faces her phobia of being alone after her elderly friend is injured...Tash's volatile emotions and Kevin's gentle steadiness ring true, adding dimension to the tear-jerking trope...A bittersweet but hopeful take on loss, trauma, and the many meanings of family.
The book unfurls some information with deliberate slowness rather than relying on immediate contextual explanation, which lends authenticity to the experience of stepping into the middle of somebody’s life. Ultimately, this is a touching story about human connections both lost and found, and it will be suitable as a chapter-by-chapter readaloud as well as a readalone.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Readers will find here an emotional punch; a nuanced and character-driven plot that doesn’t stray from a middle-grade perspective; and a thoughtful exploration of grief and pain—and family ties that strengthen through both.
—The Horn Book
An emotional read likely to appeal to sensitive middle grade souls, affirming with positive normalcy the familial roles of lesbian and gay adults.
—School Library Journal
Schmatz (Lizard Radio) captures the uncertainty and turbulent emotions of a girl struggling with change and loss while examining the value of found family.
This is an engaging story that shows the bonds of friendship that can exist between different generations and the love of family and friends. Every young person will be able to relate to Tash having lashed out at someone they love and then seeking forgiveness. This realistic book shows that with love, compassion, and even a little magic, things can work out in the long run.
—School Library Connection
Gr 4–6—This heartfelt and often sad story follows the coming-of-age of 11-year-old Tash. Uncle Kevin, her legal guardian, is off on a monthlong trip to New Zealand and Tash is forced to spend the summer in a camp. She's initially resistant and takes out her anger on Uncle Kevin and Cap'n Jackie, her elderly and curmudgeonly next-door neighbor with whom she shares a deep bond. Upon returning from camp, Tash is distressed to find that Cap'n Jackie is gone—she's in a rehab facility after breaking her hip. This is a simple tale about loving and letting go, showing deep levels of understanding, forgiveness, and love between a close-knit family defined on its own terms. Schmatz takes the axiom of "show, not tell" seriously in the quest to avoid defining people by their histories and legal relationships; as the story unfolds these things slowly become clear. After an opening section written through letters and emails, the pacing steadies, unfolding Tash's realistic character growth through single-scene, short chapters. VERDICT An emotional read likely to appeal to sensitive middle grade souls, affirming with positive normalcy the familial roles of lesbian and gay adults.—Rhona Campbell, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC
Traumatized by past neglect at the hands of an alcoholic parent, an "almost-sixth-grader" faces her phobia of being alone after her elderly friend is injured.Tash resents that she has to go to camp while her loving great-uncle and custodian, Kevin, goes to New Zealand. She'd rather stay with her whimsical elderly neighbor, Cap'n Jackie, and hear her stories. Isolated by agoraphobia and grief, Cap'n Jackie retreats into a fantasy while Tash is away: An old key summons a magical dragon/dolphin and the spirits of her cat, Mulligan, and her partner, Vanessa. Tash had angrily thrown the key at Cap'n Jackie before leaving, a gesture with greater consequences than she realizes. While Tash is at camp, the friends' brief handwritten correspondence reveals their mutual quick tempers as well as their bond. When Tash returns, she learns that Cap'n Jackie has been admitted to a rehab facility after breaking her hip—and, it seems, her spirit. Tash vows to find the key and make amends, not realizing that her solo mission is preparing her for being alone in a different way. (Readers, however, may notice some heavy foreshadowing.) Though her affection for Tash is clear, Cap'n Jackie herself is little more than a lonely old person—feistiness notwithstanding—whose ultimate function is to help Tash learn a life lesson or two. But Tash's volatile emotions and Kevin's gentle steadiness ring true, adding dimension to the tear-jerking trope. The book seems to adhere to the white default.A bittersweet but hopeful take on loss, trauma, and the many meanings of family. (Fiction. 9-12)