Whelan, Gloria. The Locked Garden.
1 June 2009
Verna and her sister Carlie move with their physician father to Michigan in 1900, where he has accepted a post at an insane asylum in the wake of their mother's death. Their stern and demanding Aunt Maude also comes with them, and the girls settle in with the help of Eleanor, a girl recuperating from melancholia. The girls have learned to deal with the absence of their mother, but Maude has not, and feels that the girls like Eleanor more than they like her, so is very mean. The father tries to ameliorate the situation, but is very busy at the hospital, trying to figure out if there are any medicines that can assist in coping with mental illness. Things finally come to a head, and the aunt is sent back to her own home, which means that the young and single Eleanor must leave as well, making the girls sad and plunging Eleanor into a recurrence of her illness, which Vern and Carlie feel they must address.
Strengths: This was a pleasant period read, and well researched like all of Whelan's books. It seems to me that there is another book on the topic of insane asylums during this period, but it escapes me. (Um, that would apparently be, er, Whelan's The Locked Garden! )
Weaknesses: Since the main theme of this is the aunt's desire to be loved and her fear that if the girls love Eleanor they will forget their mother, I don't know how much appeal it will have to younger readers. Historical fiction does much better if there is more action or intrigue in it.
Abdel-Fattah, Randa. The Friendship Matchmaker.
17 July 2012, Walker and Company
Lara takes her job as the school's friendship matchmaker very seriously, foregoing having her own friends so that she can make sure that Total Loners don't have to sit by themselves. She's even writing a manual on how to make and keep friends that she thinks "Harry Potter's publisher" is sure to snap up. Her tips include liking only popular books and movies, not being too noticeable in hair and clothing, and not being too interested in school. She is dismayed when a new girl, Emily, comes to her school and breaks all these rules, going so far as to ignore Lara's warnings and advice! This irritates Lara, and she and Emily make a bet to see whose advice is better, deciding that whichever of them can find a best friend for a Total Loner will be the best matchmaker. Lara targets the wild haired Tanya, who wears t shirts with animals hotglued to them and sniffs school supplies. Slowly, Tanya improves to Lara's specifications, but Lara still can't find her a best friend. Will Lara be able to best Amy, or will her own past come back to haunt her.
Strengths: I have liked this author's YA books, so it's interesting to find a middle grade title by her. It has a cute cover, and girls who like The Clique books would probably enjoy this "how to be popular" novel.
Weaknesses: Oooh. On a purely personal level, this really irritated me. I didn't believe that Lara would actually advise friends by appointment, or that new kids would seek her help out. She was not very likeable, and there were a lot of cliches about middle school life. As I said, I do like this author, but I don't think I can bring myself to buy the book. Kirkus Reviews, Readings, Publishers' Weekly, NSW Association for Gifted and Talented Children, Love That Book and others all really LIKED the book, so I may well be wrong here.