Last Monday, I wandered through Barnes and Noble. Okay, I confess, I was wandering a bit aimlessly because I was disappointed. After so many people finding Deepest Roots of the Heart at their Barnes and Noble stores, I really hoped to see it at “ours” (in quotes because let’s face it: a store 90 miles from home can’t quite be considered truly “ours”).
I saw the kids’ section and thought, “Lorna might like something new for summer. Maybe they have that book on Sybil whatshername who rode like Paul Revere.” So off I went. I didn’t find Sybil, but I did find a book that captured my attention. The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill is a delightful McCarthy era children’s novel that is too much fun. I mean, c’mon. A heroine who lives “in the cemetery” and sees “Reds” behind every twitching eye? What’s not to love?
This is the review I left for this book:
I almost gave this four stars. Why? Well, I don’t know. I loved it–enjoyed every minute of it. I’m a children’s book snob–crazy picky about what my kids read. So that I bought this book, sight unseen and never hearing a thing about it at all was pretty amazing. That I loved it–equally amazing. So why 4 stars, I ask myself?
It’s not “great children’s literature”, which is probably why I started to go with a four-star rating, but you know what? I LOVED reading this book. And sometimes just a solid good book needs to be rewarded as such. So here I am with 5 stars, and I don’t make apologies for that.
Hazel is a delightfully interesting and sympathetically flawed girl. She is a fully-developed character that you both love and want to shake a little sense into. Like most of us, she sees the flaws in others that she excuses in herself.
And then there’s Samuel. If he were any more perfect, he’d be a dreaded “Mary Sue” but he’s just imperfect enough to make him a nice steady counterpart to Hazel.
I love that the author both avoided the boy-girl silliness that so many books have AND didn’t hide that some kids DO. Thank you!
Some find the mystery to be lacking, but that’s kind of the point of the book–seeing mystery and intrigue where there is none. And that’s a genius twist to an otherwise oft-hackneyed genre. I actually loved that the mystery turned out to be a lot less exciting and a lot more endearing. It’s a way to make the mundane and the authentic INTERESTING. Well done.
So, I’m back to my 5 stars. I have already bought it in hardback too and purchased “The Water Castle” to see how I like that. Keep writing. I look forward to see what you do next.
GOOD, modern, youth fiction.
I’d begun to wonder if I’d just have to rely on my friend, Anne E. Phillips for such delights! You can get a free excerpt of this book (I think 38 pages worth) to test out HERE.
(note: links in this post may be affiliate links which will give me a small commission for the Denny’s fund at no additional cost to you! Thanks!)
So… after that, I remembered why I LOVE children’s fiction so much. So here’s my top three reasons you should read children’s/youth (not necessarily YA) fiction
It’s usually clean. I mean, aside from some of the Judy Blume or Goosebumps type stuff, even youth fiction that I don’t care for isn’t something that will “sully the mind” as my mother used to say. (The same woman who gave me V.C. Andrews to read when I was 13. What was she not thinking??? So glad it all went over my head.
It’s usually very direct without being preachy. I mean, the days of pietistic moralizing through story are OVER (thank the Lord!–that wasn’t flippant. I mean that.) and because of that, you get good solid lessons without feeling like you got duped into a bait and switch (entertainment became a badly executed Sunday school lesson). I like to learn and grow through reading. It’s why I read Christian fiction, for Pete’s sake!
BUT… I don’t like to feel like my story was only written to convince me that the author’s method of applying Scripture is “God’s Way for My Life.” Grr… it’s one reason that many of my books (okay, most) have characters who believe things I don’t. I like showing how different people apply the Word… but I’m not trying to get anyone to do anything but TURN TO THE WORD. *insert smiley face*
It’s a different kind of escape. Let’s face it. Unless riddled with horrible events that are out of the norm, childhood is almost a magical time. It’s a time where we get to explore what this thing called life is in a safe environment. And that’s beautiful. Reading youth books gives us that step back into those days–days where average kids leaving London during the Blitz get to explore old country manors and enter magical wardrobes and become kings and queens. It allows us to explore Arthurian legends, become protectors of our kingdoms, or see what life was in turn-of-the-20th-century Brooklyn (but don’t hand that one to a tween–maybe not even a teen. It’s really more for adults, in my opinion). Sometimes it’s good to have that kind of escape again.
And can I tell you a secret? Shh… come closer. I don’t want this getting around. The girl in The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill…? I was just like her as a kid. *blushes*
Note: DO NOT READ if you hate spoilers!!!
Okay… there is one tiny part of this book that some parents might object to. So, since I am actually recommending it as a well-written and appropriate book, I want to point that out (because I’d want to know if I were reading this). It comes out in the course of the kids’ investigation that Samuel’s parents were not married. His father never knew about him–died in WWII. His mother is still “empty” from that, and if you read between the lines, you realize she’s an alcoholic. They handle it all VERY tastefully.
My Lorna isn’t really going to get it. And that’s okay with me. But even if she did, it is so carefully written, that I wouldn’t mind. My kids (at her age) were vaguely aware that not all children have married parents. It wasn’t made a big deal out of either way–and this book handles it much the same. It’s a fact of his life that has bearing on the situation.
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