Thursday, August 6, 2015

My Life in Dioramas by Tara Altebrando

Kate Marino, 12, truly loves living in her rambling red farmhouse, affectionately known by everyone in her small Hudson Valley town as Big Red.  But when her parents tell her that they are forced to sell Big Red because of money problems, Kate has a hard time accepting this stinging blow.

So, without doing her homework, a diorama about a scene from life, Kate goes to bed, clothes and all.  Next day, when her teacher asks for her diorama, she promises to make two to make up for being unprepared.  What Kate really needs, though, is a plan to thwart any potential buyers and best friend Naveen is there to help.  He suggests that she make the house smell badly and to do that they collect some recently made cow pies.  And it works for the first open house.  But soon the realtor is on to her.

Meanwhile, Kate's dancing teacher announces that her dance class will be particpating in a dance competition in Albany at the end of the school year.  It's a problem for Kate, who may be gone by then, but who refuses to say anything to the teacher, even when her other best friend Stella urges her to.  In fact, sabotaging the sale of Big Red just becomes even more imperative, at least until after the dance competition.  Stella, who is well off, also wants to enter the indivudual dance competition as well and can afford hire a teacher and chorographer to help her.  Luckily, Kate, who would be real competition for Stella, has no interest in doing that.  Kate and Stella are growing apart anyway, as Stella's attentions turn to boys and Kate isn't interested in them yet.

While all this is happening, Kate finds herself making dioramas of each of the rooms in Big Red, each one depicting a meaningful memory for her that happened there.  The dioramas help Kate deal with leaving the only home she has ever known and stepping into rootlessness with her parents who don't seem to know where they will go or what they will do and aren't particularly worried about it.  Kate's parents work freelance, so they able to accept that kind of insecurity.  In fact, sometimes they seem totally disconnected with reality, including Kate's love of dance and her strong desire to be in the competition.  And to make matters worse, her mother seems to be suffering from clincial depression.

When the house is finally sold, Kate discovers she must say goodbye to more than Big Red as she steps into the unknown.  On the day the family moves, the old family dog Angus dies.  It was like the dog was letting Kate know it is time to make a fresh start.  But will she be able to?

This was an interesting coming of age story.  Kate is a convincing 12 year old, although I think the first sabotage using the fresh cow pies went on a little too long for my taste (but kids probably won't be too bothered by that).  I know that lots of kids must deal with a seriously depressed parent, and it was refreshing to see that this wasn't just treated as an unimportant aside or plot device to move the story along.

Change is never easy, but as Kate learns, it can open new doors and that is the message of this novel.  But don't get me wrong, there is plenty of humor in in My Life in Dioramas, and Naveen is one of my favorite characters.  But, for me, the best part is that it reminds us that sometimes people really do hear you and pay attention and then they do something.

Oh, yes, and I loved the setting.  I used to go to camp every year in the Hudson Valley so I know how really beautiful that area is.  But I did not like the cover - it's just too dark and you can barely make out Big Red.

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

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