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A song called home
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Publishers Weekly Review
On her 11th birthday, fifth grader Louisa Emerson discovers a mysterious guitar on her San Francisco doorstep and, assuming it's a gift from her estranged father, decides to learn to play, hoping the action will bring the two closer. Though she misses her dad, Lou is comfortable with the "we" comprising herself, her mom, and her adored teenage sister, Casey, but everything changes when her mom suddenly marries Steve from their Christian church and the family moves from their tiny city apartment to Steve's suburban home. As sensitive, religious Lou strives to adapt to change in her newly affluent white family, she also worries about her dad, who lives with alcohol addiction; losing her close relationship with her best friend Beth, who is Chinese American; and her sister's unpredictable moods. As a way of coping, Lou begins to pocket small objects. This compassionate middle grade debut by Zarr (Goodbye from Nowhere) is rich in small, acutely observed moments (Lu and Beth suck on candy until it takes "the shape of the roof of their mouths" like a retainer) as well as complex and endearing characters. An exceptional, emotionally honest portrait of a tween navigating a blended family. Ages 8--12. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Feb.)
School Library Journal Review
Gr 5--8--Fifth grader Louisa (Lou) Emerson struggles with her alcoholic father's departure from her family. Left to help her pick up the pieces is her older sister, Casey, who is either on her phone or angry most of the time. To complicate life even further, her mother is engaged to a man named Steve, who Lou isn't even sure she likes. On her birthday, a guitar mysteriously appears outside her apartment door. Convinced it's from her father, Lou is determined to learn to play it. As her emotions spiral out of control, she begins to steal things; little things that remind her that she still does have some power. On the day of her mother's wedding, Lou's dad shows up uninvited and intoxicated. Frustrated that she can't even hold a normal conversation with her transient father, and with attending a new school close to Steve's house, Lou's stealing ramps up and ends up hurting someone very dear to her. Things start to look up when she meets a neighbor who can teach her to play the guitar in time for the school talent show. As her playing improves, Lou is certain that when her dad hears her perform in the talent show, things will be better. VERDICT This coming-of-age novel tackles issues of alcohol dependence, stealing, puberty, divorce, and step-families. A solid addition to middle grade shelves.--Tracy Cronce
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