Summer starts off with a bang for Rachel when she receives a refurbished bike for her 13th birthday, but things quickly go downhill as she confronts unwanted change. Her longtime best friend, Micah, wants more than just friendship, but Rachel doesn’t think she is attracted to any boy—or anyone at all—something that makes her feel “different.” Then there are the escalating fights between her parents about money, which are scary to both Rachel and her little sister, Ivy. If keeping Ivy distracted from family problems isn’t hard enough, Rachel’s also taking care of her neighbors’ animals for the summer, and the peckish chickens and an aggressive pig might prove to be more than she can handle. In this bittersweet coming-of-age novel rooted in some of the author’s own experiences, Knowles (Still a Work in Progress) paints a down-to-earth picture of an adolescent girl who is saddled with too many responsibilities. Rachel’s anger and frustration over not being able to control her situation is as vividly expressed as her growing maturity and courage. Ages 10–14. Agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Apr.)
Gr 4–7—A gently told story about tough transitions, family and sibling love and stress, and evolving friendships. Thirteen year old Rachel's summer is filled with uncertainties. Her relationship with her longtime best friend, Micah, is being tested by new crushes and jealousies, and her family is having serious financial problems and may lose their home. On top of that, Rachel is struggling to figure out what she wants from life and love. Many children will empathize with Rachel as she struggles with friendships old and new, emerging crushes, a little sister and a cranky pig, and worried, preoccupied parents. Even as Jo Knowles tackles some tough issues, especially income insecurity and loss of home, she keeps the tone quiet, warm, detailed, and often funny, leaving the reader space to work out questions and problems along with Rachel and her loved ones. VERDICT A good read for fans of Rebecca Stead and Jeanne Birdsall.—Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library
Her 14th summer teaches Rachel the meaning of the word bittersweet.
All her life she and her parents and her little sister, Ivy, who's 8, have lived in an old farmhouse they've named Bittersweet Farm, for the vines on the property that her mother makes into wreaths. It's not a working farm, but they have a big garden and an elderly rescue pony. Rachel's mother has lost her job as a school librarian, so money is tight, but Rachel is chiefly concerned with her relationship with her best friend, Micah, who would love to be her boyfriend if Rachel allowed. Rachel isn't sure of her sexuality, and she is anxious around schoolmates who are richer and more self-assured. She spends the summer at the nearby beach and caring for the animals on a rich neighbor's hobby farm. Then their family loses their home to foreclosure. Told in Rachel's authentically 13-year-old first-person voice, the story suffers from uneven pacing. At first readers are led to think that Rachel's relationships and sexuality will be the story's main focus. Whole chapters are spent describing the neighbor's farm, which turns out to be unimportant to the plot, and the foreclosure, which turns out to be the primary plot point, isn't mentioned until two-thirds of the way through the book. The economic stressors this default-white family faces are well-presented.
With pleasant but meandering writing and little urgency, this one's best for character-oriented readers. (Fiction. 8-12)
Knowles handles Rachel’s evolving feelings about her sexual orientation with particular nuance: Rachel’s concerns center on her own comfort and sense of self rather than worries about how her identity might be perceived, offering readers an exemplar that is compelling and fresh. The world is foisting a great deal on Rachel in a singular moment, and her responses are believable and affecting. This is one of those rare novels that feels less like a constructed story and more like a momentary glimpse into a real young life— genuine, stirring, and raw.
—The Horn Book (starred review)
Each story thread has its own significance and weight, and when woven in with the others and dotted with moments of joy and humor creates a fully realized portrait of a girl trying to figure out how to be a teenager when all she really wants is to stay a kid...This is bittersweet in its realism, but readers can leave with the knowledge that the lessons of the summer have equipped Rachel to do more than just manage and to flourish into a confident, self-assured young woman.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)
In this bittersweet coming-of-age novel rooted in some of the author’s own experiences, Knowles (Still a Work in Progress) paints a down-to-earth picture of an adolescent girl who is saddled with too many responsibilities. Rachel’s anger and frustration over not being able to control her situation is as vividly expressed as her growing maturity and courage.
A gently told story about tough transitions, family and sibling love and stress, and evolving friendships...Even as Jo Knowles tackles some tough issues, especially income insecurity and loss of home, she keeps the tone quiet, warm, detailed, and often funny, leaving the reader space to work out questions and problems along with Rachel and her loved ones. A good read for fans of Rebecca Stead and Jeanne Birdsall.
—School Library Journal
Knowles deals with specific yet relatable upheavals in a young teenager’s life with nuance and understanding. Rachel’s emotional turbulence, as well as her growth and change, are realistically presented. The story offers no easy answers, but plenty of hope, heart, and love. A sensitive, character- driven story about change.
This coming of age story doesn’t shy away from the tough topic of a family facing financial hardship, but it’s mainly a gentle and sensitive look at a young girl forced to deal with the stress of change and growing up that will resonate with many readers.
—B&N Kids Blog