Ally Condie’s (Matched trilogy) first middle grade realistic novel is a warmly touching story of grief, dreams and differences.
12 year-old biracial Chinese-American Cedar Lee and her younger brother, Miles, and mother are recovering from the death of her father and other brother, Ben. Settling into a new summer home in the town of Iron Creek Utah, Cedar starts to come to terms with her grief as she makes a friend, Leo, and they get jobs at the Summerlost Shakespeare festival, where they investigate the long ago death of one of the stars, Lisette Chamberlain.
The book doesn’t seem quite sure of what it is – a mystery? A supernatural fantasy? Or both these things lightly mixed into a coming of age story. In the end all the different threads just fizzle out leaving nothing but Cedar’s strong bond with her family and her growing friendship with Leo against the backdrop of the festival.
Condie skillfully show different facets of Cedar’s intense anguish about the loss of her father and brother. She is angry at the randomness of their deaths, caused by a drunk driver: “It’s not right that something so big, your entire life, depends on a million tiny things.” Small objects appear on her windowsill that remind of Ben, and she and Miles become deeply invested in a macabre plot-line in a soap opera. Yet she also guiltily recognizes that Ben, who was mentally disabled, could be annoying and demanding.
Cedar knows what it’s like to be different as she resembles her Chinese father but lives in her mother’s White world. She has also experienced it through people’s reactions to Ben. She bonds with Leo because he marches to his own drummer, though there is (maybe) a hint that there is something more to his social unconventionality.
Though this is completely different to her YA dystopic Matched trilogy, Condie’s name is probably enough to get this into middle grade collections and into the hands of readers who enjoy sweet, emotionally satisfying reads.
Reviewed from an ARC.