Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: The Boy on Cinnamon Street by Phoebe Stone

The Boy on Cinnamon Street. by Phoebe Stone. February 1, 2012. Scholastic. 240 pages. ISBN: 9780545215121
Thumbelina used to be called Louise, but she gave up that name along with gymnastics, any memories she had of her mother, and her house on Cinnamon Street. Something terrible happened on Cinnamon Street, but Thumbelina really can’t remember much of it. Lately, she’s just been floating through life with her grandparents while her dad dotes on his stepdaughter, making only the occasional phone call. One day, though, after ordering a pizza, a mysterious love note arrives on Thumbelina’s doorstep. She enlists the help of her two best friends, foodie Reni and her charmingly nerdy brother, Henderson, to figure out whether the pizza delivery boy, or some other suitor, is the one who sent the note.

The Boy on Cinnamon Street is one of the most sophisticated middle grade novels I have ever read. It’s a short book - I easily read it in one sitting - but it’s anything but simple. Louise, who has repressed memories of what happened to her mother, is an intriguing and sometimes flat-out unreliable narrator, and her relationships with the people around her - from her grandparents, to Reni and Henderson - are complicated, and at times, utterly heartbreaking. I absolutely love the psychology of this book, how an innocent crush becomes the key to unlocking Louise’s memory, and how love - even just puppy love - is able to overcome great trauma. I am so impressed by the way Stone allows Louise to speak to the reader in the first person, but still keeps so much information from us. We get a real sense of how powerless Louise has become, and we undergo the healing process right along with her, learning the clues to her past only when she does. This slow unfolding of the story really bonds the reader to Louise, and makes the satisfying ending really pay off.

This book is very much about Louise’s internal struggles, so it will appeal most to kids who like character-driven novels. I also think the book is somewhat challenging in the sense that the reader doesn’t always know what to believe, or whether Louise is even trustworthy. The serious subject matter and tone of the story might not appeal to every kid, but I do believe there are plenty of kids who will identify with some aspect of the story, even if they haven’t been in Louise’s exact situation. Though the cover makes the book look like a romance novel, it’s actually less likely to appeal to romance lovers and more likely to engage readers who have enjoyed the novels of authors like Kevin Henkes, Cynthia Voigt, and Lynne Rae Perkins.

This is one of the few novels I’ve read so far this year that I could see as a possible contender for the 2013 Newbery. It might be a long shot, but it’s worth keeping on the radar, as the writing is quite distinguished, and the book as a whole is unlike anything else I have read this year, or even in the last few years.

I borrowed The Boy on Cinnamon Street from my local public library. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

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