Monday, July 14, 2014

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

Grace and her mother are nomads, moving from place to place all over California every few months, but now Grace is sure they have found a much desired permanent home.renting a small house from Mrs. Green.  Grace and Lacey Green have even become best friends.  So when her mother started showing signs of restlessness, Grace refused to move.  Then the unthinkable happened - Grace's mother accidentally drowned in the river.

Now Grace, 12, must live with her estranged grandmother, a woman she only knows one thing about - she had put her mother on a bus to Texas when she discovered her 17 year old daughter was pregnant with Grace.

At her mother's funeral, grandma seems to be the cold-hearted, uncaring person Grace always imagined she was.  Grace refused to live in the house with her, choosing to live in an old shed instead.  But Grace has a plan to sabotage her grandmother's life as much as possible and one that she is pretty sure will get her sent back to live with Mrs. Green and Lacey.  Even after grandma hands her brand new clothes and a new pair of Chucks, Grace refuses to have anything to do with her.  On the other hand, tracking mud through the house, removing all the light bulbs in the house and replacing the clothes detergent with dish washing soap doesn't elicit the reaction Grace had hoped from a disgusted, raging grandma ready to get rid of another child.

And then Grace discovers an origami crane and she is convinced her mother is reaching out from the grave to guide Grace to where she wants her to live now.  After all, her mother had always used origami cranes as part of the treasure hunts she devised for Grace each time they moved to help her get accustomed to her new home.  All Grace has to do is find all the clues her mother was sending.

But slowly Grace begins to settle in, starting school and even making new friends.  Could this possibly be the permanent home she has always craved?  But what about grandma?  Can she trust grandma not to send her away like she did her mother?   Well, sometimes, thing just aren't what they seem to be.

I have to confess, it took me two tries to get into The Secret Hum of a Daisy.  I found the beginning a little slow going, perhaps the idea of beginning a novel with a funeral wasn't appealing to me.  But once I past it, I couldn't put Grace's story down.   For the most part, the writing is beautiful - emotional and lyrical yet straightforward.  The characters are nicely developed, and as you get to know them better, Grace and grandma both begin to feel very engaging and quite full-bodied.  The setting is perfect, a very small, somewhat rural town in northern California where everyone knows everyone else, and most people knew Grace's mother and even her dad in a way that doesn't happen in big cities.

This is a coming of age novel where readers really see the transformation of Grace unfold slowly and gently, as she narrated her story (it is a first person narration).  I was a young when my dad passed away and so I could understand Grace's magical thinking when she first discovers the origami crane, since cranes played an important part in her mother's life., and convinces herself it is a sign from her mother.

All that being said, I did have some problems.  First, while Grace's mother seems somewhat selfish, not considering what her growing child needed, only what she herself wanted.  She had grown up in a stable, happy home up until she was sent to Texas, and while that may have traumatized her, it wasn't enough for me to understand the need to keep moving.  Perhaps she was haunted by her own demons, but I didn't get a sense of that, mostly because we don't find out the whole story until almost the end of the book.

There are two main themes in The Secret Hum of a Daisy.  First, there is the theme of loss.  Grace loses her mother accidentally, but even before that, she has already lost the family she never knew, the life she could have had and wanted because of her mother's wandering life.  And each move involves its own kind of loss.  But the loss theme keeps coming up.  I could handle a few origami cranes being found - maybe some kid could have made and gave them to different people around town, but instead cancer and the story of Saduko are introduced and as is a sick horse.  I felt it was too much and really interrupted the flow of Grace's own narrative about loss.

The second theme is about forgiveness.  I am a big believer in forgiveness, so naturally I kept wondering how many hoops the grandma was going to have to jump through before Grace realized she wasn't the person she had been years ago.  However, I did think it was a real positive that the grandma owned up to her mistake and took responsibility for her.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy appears to be a debut novel for author Tracy Holczer.  I thought that she has a definite writing style that is just the stuff of great middle grade stories and she can cast an image with words in a way that is enviable (much like her young protagonist does with her poetry).   When you read the book, you will see what I mean.  I think a little editing and this could have been a 5 star novel for me. And I am really looking forward to reading her next book.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book is a ARC from the publisher

There is an excellent Curriculum Guide for teachers to use with this book available HERE

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