Sam by Allegra Goodman (Young Adult)

A story about a young girl who sinks into despondency and manages to (literally) claw herself up through rock climbing, her perseverance and stubbornness when faced with impossible climbing challenges mirroring the way she finally finds a path that works for her. The six parts of the novel take us from seven to eighteen — dealing with a beloved father who, fighting addiction, disappears for long periods of time; a (temporary) step father with no fondness for her and a somewhat violent temperament; a (most of the time) single mother pushing her children to not miss the opportunities she herself had missed; a half brother who needs constant management to get even the smallest thing done; and many others on varying sides of (my) moral boundaries.

The writing is good and I appreciated the thoughtful characterizations. While she finds her way at the end, I found reading the book to be a little depressing. While there were many good characters, I found myself wishing that people had just made better choices up front. It’s always painful for me to think about how many screwed up people there are and how their mistakes cause such pain for others. I’m aware that I’m completely missing the actual point of the story which is about how someone overcomes the problems of their childhood, but I find myself unhappy that they ever had to face those problems to begin with.

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group, The Dial Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on January 3rd, 2023.

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (Middle Grade)

I’ve been reading a lot of depressing (but very good – stay tuned) books lately and decided I needed a happy break — enter To Night Owl from Dogfish. An impressive, fully epistolary (email style) novel, following the grudging friendship developing between two 12-year old girls who have been sent to summer camp by their romantically involved, single, gay dads in order to get to know each other. What follows is a touching and simultaneously funny (and convoluted) story reminiscent of The Parent Trap.

Californian Bett Devlin is afraid of nothing, loves animals, sports, and a lack of rules. New Yorker Avery Bloom is afraid of everything, likes the indoors, and loves for things to be under control and absolutely safe. As their dads head off for a motorcycle trip across China, they communicate via iPad having already decided that they will under no circumstances be friends or even speak to each other at camp! Things head off in unexpected directions (I really didn’t see *any* of the plot developments coming) and include Avery’s previously unknown biological mother and Bett’s (somewhat loony) grandmother from Texas.

A fun read!