What You Need to Know:|
• Divorce, cancer and a gay parent are all issues faced by the main character.
• The main character, India, is a nine year old girl adopted from China.
• Life in small town Maine sounds somewhat idyllic.
• The first person point of view helps the reader to get to know India and how she’s feeling.
• The illustrations, supposedly drawn by the main character, add to the story.
India McAllister is nine and a half years old, lives in Wolfgang, Maine, and has a dog named, Tofu. She likes school, reading and hanging out with her best friend, Colby. One thing she doesn’t like is mean girl, Amanda Roden who irritates India throughout the story. India's mom, an artist and breast cancer survivor, gets caught up with her work, sometimes even forgetting when it's time to eat. Her parents have been divorced for a few years and while she usually sees her dad every weekend, she’s still getting used to her dad’s new “friend” Richard. India, who was adopted from China, occasionally gets mad at her birth mother and wishes that she were not Chinese. As you can see, there's a lot to learn about India McAllister.
Although a few themes run throughout, the chapters jump from one separate episode to the next. One night, early on in the story, India and Colby sneak out (they each tell their parents that they’re staying at the other’s house) because they want to spend the night in a nearby field where they think they might spy a UFO. While they're in the field, Colby asks India if she knows about "the facts of life" which turn out to be very different from the facts that India assumes they are - don't worry, no details are provided. The subject is closed when they see a scary flashing light, become frightened and run home to safety. The UFO and the facts of life are not mentioned again. India's mom never even figures out that she had been tricked. A few chapters later, India wanders out to the nearby quarry alone and discovers a strange man. He is dressed in old clothes, has a scruffy beard, and is playing "lonely" music on his saxophone. She seems to understand that she shouldn’t talk to this stranger but she chooses not to tell her mom about it because she figures she wouldn't approve of what she'd done. When she finally tells her dad he doesn't say much, simply quoting Tolkien, telling India “Not all who wander are lost.” As with the UFO, the stranger isn't mentioned again.
Beyond her daily adventures, India is dealing with a lot of serious identity issues. In addition to her parents’ divorce and her own adoption, she has a breast on her wall and it gets a lot of attention. It’s a plaster breast, and it’s there because her mom made it from her own breast before she lost the real one to cancer. This experience causes India some concern. Although she's not ready for them yet, it makes her worried about what her own breasts will be like one day. Will she only have one? She also notices that other girls, like her enemy, Amanda, already have breasts and even like to show them off. India is trying to figure things out, questioning, “why do breasts make people act funny?” India is later faced with another challenge when her best friend, Colby, ditches her to hang out with Amanda. She's hurt, sad and probably a little jealous of their relationship. Not only is she learning about how boys and girls act when they like each other, she’s also learning about the pressures of popularity and the power of wearing the right clothes. She even overhears girls discussing whether or not a shirt makes a girl look fat. These are all complicated issues for a nine year old girl and difficult to resolve in a 160 page book.
I honestly feel very conflicted about this story. I found several of the characters to be interesting and some of the story lines to be appealing and valuable, but the author touches on so many subjects that nothing seems to be thought through to completion. It’s almost as though the author started with the usual formula – female main character (slightly tomboyish) age 9 to 12, male best friend, lots of independence, one neighborhood girl she just can’t stand, a nice teacher, a sweet old lady living next door and a pet dog – and then decided to add a few things in to spice up the story. Spicing up the the traditional plot lines is great - and it's what readers need, but I wonder if Agell has gone just a little too far and included too much. The reader encounters divorce, a gay dad living with his “friend”, a mom with cancer, environmentalism, popularity, mean girls, the facts of life, and to top it all off, there's adoption. There are so many meaningful concepts packed into this book that they actually get diluted and none of them seem to have any significance in the end. Also, although the story is about nine year-olds, the writing seems geared toward a slightly younger audience while the storylines may be more appropriate for an older audience. The side bar illustrations are fun and will most likely add to any reader’s enjoyment of the story.
2010, 160 pages
Adoption, Cliques/Popularity, Divorce, Environmentalism, Family Life, Feelings, Friendship, Growing Up, Illness/Death, Same-Sex Parents, School
• Is it ever OK to lie to your parents?
• What makes someone popular?
• Why are kids sometimes mean to each other?
• Do kids who look different have a harder time making friends?
• Is it nice to ditch your best friend for someone new?
• How can you help a friend who is dealing with divorce or cancer?
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