I love fish-out-of-water novels so much. Junior high seems to be the perfect age to experience new things and retain the adventure of the newness, while exploring the difficulties of adjusting and taking it all in stride. Daphne Greer has written a fish-out-of-water novel with a classy cover that reminds me of THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS, by Katherine Paterson, with a quieter protagonist who deals with the hand he's been dealt in different ways. While the fish-out-of-water/ mi familia loca trope is nothing new, the requisite "new-things-per-page" that makes a novel interesting is all right there, includes new landscapes - this book is set in the tiny village of Newport Landing, Nova Scotia, and now I have nineteen other reasons to pop over to Nova Scotia one summer. It sounds amazing.
Summary: Jacob Mosher's life is like a cracked cup. All that was familiar and loved has seeped out -- way back when he was tiny, his mother, then a year ago his father, now, this summer his foster mother, Maggie, and the familiar cityscapes of Ottawa. There's very little left in Jacob's life that doesn't seem to be departing on an outgoing tide. His social worker, Bernice, has worked a miracle in finding his last two surviving relatives. He has grandparents! But they're a world away in Nova Scotia - a.k.a. nowhere - and they're as weird as heck. SUPER weird. His grandfather, Frank, is forever barking nautical orders, wears this bizarre naval getup, is blind, and can't seem to remember Jacob's not some junior sailor on his nonexistent ship. His grandmother, Pearl, is... evasive, doesn't ask any questions - or answer any questions, either - and doesn't always remember to put in her dentures. And why didn't Jacob's father ever say anything about having family? Why hasn't he ever been to see Frank and Pearl? There are secrets and things left unsaid haunting all corners of the great big house on the hill.
Jacob begins the summer completely uninvested, but his grandparents seem to expect vastly different things from him than he thought, and his own expectations of surviving the summer are worlds away from what he finds. Fortunately, there Ruby from up the lane, Kenny, his grandfather's home health aide, and a few other reliable folk to help him find his feet. An absolutely sweet tale of secrets revealed and hearts mended, this is a perfect middle grade summer read.
Peaks: Though this book leaves the reader heart-full, it is also funny. While many people believe there is nothing funny about aging, "Captain Crazy, and his sidekick, Pearl" - a.k.a. Jacob's grandparents - are full of their own little quirks and habits, and Jacob is completely unable to say no to either of them, with the expected (sometimes exasperating, sometimes hilarious) results. I like the gradual way Jacob begins to care about them, and take more and more of their worries, and the worries of his friend Ruby onto his shoulders.
While this isn't exactly a mystery -- it's merely a summer-in-a-new-place kind of book -- there's a couple of little plot quirks at the end that I didn't see coming, which were quite satisfying.
Valleys: None to report, though a perceived lack of diversity may have had more to do with me missing some cues than there being none to report. This is a quick read about a boy who was a little sad and displaced, which is something we've all felt, and that commonality will pull in even the most reluctant of readers.
Conclusion: Like a perfect summer day - warm, but with just a kiss of breeze - Daphne Greer's book celebrates the best things about foster care, family, friendships, and bridging the generations to make our own truths. This is a book you'll want to hug.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of Emily at Nimbus Publishing. You can find JACOB'S LANDING by Daphne Greer at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!