Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Boy on Cinnamon Street by Phoebe Stone

Louise Terrance is a seventh grader in pain.  She has suffered the traumatic loss of her mother and she just can't own it the circumstances surrounding her death.  Instead, Louise has cut herself off from most of her friends, quit gymnastics and protects herself with a snarky attitude.  Since her mother's death, Louise has been living with her grandparents, two free spirits doing their best to try to help Louise with her problems.  But Louise won't be helped, by them or her best friend Reni, or even Henderson, Reni's brother.

On the very day that her grandmother sells her balance beam at a garage sale, Louise orders a pizza that comes with a note reading "I am your biggest fan."  As more notes arrive, Louise sets off on an obsessive journey to discover who this secret admirer is.  She and Reni decide that it must be Benny McCartney, the pizza guy, and eventually Louise obligingly fall in crush with him.  What better way to push back the pain of trauma and it works throughout most of seventh grade.  Well, that is until it doesn't.

And with no crush to blind her, Louise's defenses come tumbling down, forcing her to confront her demons.  Will the real secret admirer be able to help her through all this?  Or is he just too far away now?

I enjoyed reading Phoebe Stone's novel The Romeo and Juliet Code about a girl sent to live with some very eccentric relatives in Maine during World War II so much, that I was really looking forward to reading her newest book, The Boy on Cinnamon Street.  And I am sorry to say, I was a little disappointed with this coming of age novel.

It wasn't that the writing was bad, that was fine.  And the storyline offered so much potential.  But for some reason, I couldn't connect with Louise's pain.  It is a terrible thing to lose a parent, especially the way Louise lost her mother a year earlier.  One can understand her PTSD reaction - changing her name to Thumblina, quitting her beloved gymnastics team, and unconsciously wiping her mind clean of all memories of her mother.  And Louise's anger at her dad is also understandable.  After all, he had left Louise and her mom and remarried a woman with a daughter the same age as Louise and is now living in New York.  The mystery crush becomes a wonderfully simple way to again deflect the unbearable pain and anger she feels.  And yet, somehow Louise just wasn't a sympathetic character.

In the end, I found the characters all needed to be developed more as individuals and less as stereotypical ideas - there is Reni, the overweight best friend who has no boy friend prospects and crushes out just too much on safe, distant, never-can-break-your-heart Justin Bieber (there was way too much Justin Bieber in this book which will quickly date it).  And Reni's quirky, geeky brother who is almost always there at the right time for Louise even though he goes to a different school.  And of course, the distant father and his daughter replacement.  In a way, it felt to me like Louise's life was a combination of Carmen and Bridget's stories from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Does this book have no redeeming qualities, then?  Of course it does.  It is a book that will find it way into the hands of middle grade girls who will identity with and love Louise.  And her story does bear reading about.  It is a healing, hopeful story in the end and traumatic loss has become so much a part of our society these days, that a novel that addresses this issue is absolutely of value and certainly worth reading.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL

1 comment:

  1. It's such a bummer when an author's second book is not as good as the first. Still, thanks for the review.


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