by Lucy Knisley
* * * * Stars (Great!)
Jen and her mother move to the country with her mom’s boyfriend, Walter, so mom can follow her dreams of being a farmer. But for Jen, who has had no choice in the matter, it’s kind of a nightmare. She’s had to leave her home in the city, her dad (when her parents divorced), and now has all kinds of chores and responsibilities she never asked for. Walter is a jerk – never respects Jen’s wish to be called “Jen” and not “Jenny,” and he’s always putting her down and making her feel stupid and worthless (especially when compared to his daughters). It takes awhile for Jen and her sort of stepsisters to become friends – Andy is super bossy and Reese is whiny – but they do come to love and appreciate one another. Eventually everyone starts to adapt to their new lives and the market days (farmer’s market) are fun rather than traumatic, and they begin to have fun as a family, too.
As other reviewers have mentioned, there are definitely problems with Walt/Jen’s sort of stepfather’s behavior. It’s a relief when his own daughters stand up to him in support of Jen, but it’s not clear if he makes any permanent changes. Jen’s mom is upset by some of the things he says and does, but opts more often to make peace than to make waves – even where her daughter is concerned. That’s also disturbing, especially when you really care about Jen and want her to be happy and safe.
Lucy Knisely states in the afterword that this story is semi-autobiographical – she, too, had a mom who dragged her city girl self kicking and screaming into the country to start a new life, and she had very little choice about it. Kids will be able to relate to that feeling of powerlessness for sure – they have to live with the choices their parents/caregivers make all the time (for better or for worse). She seems to have come to terms with this chapter of her life and can look back fondly on those times – even when they were hard – and her family members – even when they were difficult.
She writes: “One of the worst things about being a kid is finding yourself in these situations where you have no control over the decisions the adults are making that affect you. But sometimes it’s also one of the best things – to find yourself in a situation you couldn’t possibly have chosen for yourself, totally at sea. It can sometimes bring unexpected beauty, and introduce strangers that become family.”
Reviewed by YA Librarian