As Simple As It Seems
by Sarah Weeks
by Sarah Weeks
2010 | 192 pages | Middle Grade
Set in Sullivan County, New York (not far from where I grew up), As Simple As It Seems is the story of a young girl named Verbena, who, after years in the dark about her true identity, learns she is adopted, and that her biological mother drank during pregnancy, and her biological dad is in prison for murder. This information changes the way Verbena sees herself, and she begins to suspect that she has inherited the ugliness of her parents' dark sides. As she comes to terms with the new information she's learned about herself, Verbena also struggles to cut the apron strings tying her to her adoptive mother, worries that her best friend has moved on to bigger and better things, and clings to some semblance of her old self-image by duping a neighbor boy into believing she is a ghost.
The book is one of those serious children's stories for which it can sometimes be difficult to find an audience. I enjoyed the writing style very much, especially the description, but I definitely saw it from an adult's point of view, and as a kid, I don't know that I would have been at all interested in the story. Still, though, Verbena's struggle to understand changes in her life as she grows up and begins to see the truth of her situation, is a universal experience, and I think, if kids stick with the serious tone, they'll see themselves in it.
Here is just a taste of the quality of the description. Verbena explains why she won't attend this year's Fourth of July barbecue:
Annie and I had always watched the fireworks together, lying on our backs on an old blue bedspread. We would each hold our breath in anticipation as the rockets shot up, then whoop and shriek as they exploded into patterns we gave names to, like waterfall, curly fry, and dandelion puff. I had never missed a Fourth of July celebration in my life, but I'd already made up my mind that I wasn't going that year. I knew the old blue bedspread would feel as big as the ocean without Annie lying beside me. (p. 57)
I can imagine not only the happiness of past holiday celebrations, but also Verbena's feelings of abandonment and loneliness now that those happy times are past.
I also absolutely loved the scenes where Verbena meets and befriends Pooch, the neighbor boy vacationing in a nearby house. They reminded me so much of Jennifer and Elizabeth's friendship in Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, right down to the faux supernatural elements.
This is a quiet book, and it's realistic fiction, which isn't all that popular these days, but I really like it, and I hope I'll be able to recommend it to at least a few kids in my library.
I borrowed As Simple As It Seems from my local public library.