Benedis-Grab, Daphne. Clementine for Christmas
August 25th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Josie has a decent life in Frost Ridge, where she lives with her Vietnamese grandparents and mother. Her father passed away from cancer and her grandfather has had hip surgery, so the extra support is appreciated by all the generations. Josie is very grateful for Clementine, the dog she got for Christmas the year her father passed. She loves everything about Christmas, from the wild sweaters her grandmother knits to the play that is put on at the hospital where she volunteers with Clementine. Oscar, on the other hand, is NOT a fan of Christmas, since that is when his parents' arguments seem to become louder and more frequent. After a particularly harrowing morning at home, someone at school makes him angry, and he gets suspended for hitting another boy. He also has to do community service, and ends up volunteering in the children's ward with Josie. He doesn't want to get into the spirit of things, wearing a costume and singing to children the way that Josie does, but does enjoy hanging out with Clementine, and slowly understands why Josie volunteers of her own choice. When popular fashionista Gabby ends up as a patient in the children's ward, Josie and Oscar are a little surprised. Gabby is having trouble keeping her epilepsy under control, and is concerned that classmates will make fun of her just like they did din her old school, so she promises to help Josie organize the Christmas pageant, if she and Oscar promise to keep her condition a secret. In the end, the three help each other out tremendously, even though there are missteps along the way.
The characters in this book all reflect actual middle school students brilliantly. Josie feels unpopular, even though she is happy with her homemade sweaters and ill-fitting jeans. Oscar is angry at many things, and this shows itself in his behavior at school. Gabby wants to retain her hard-earned popularity by dressing like the popular girls even though it takes ingenuity to stretch her money and is a physical hardship for her when her epilepsy becomes unmanageable. The way that the three of them are thrown together isn't overly forced (although I don't know how the principal of the school could mandate community service without even talking with Oscar's parents!), and they aren't friends immediately-- in fact, they are wary of each other for most of the book!
There were many multicultural characters in the book without the book being about any one culture, which was refreshing to see. Josie is half Vietnamese, Gabby is Hispanic, and Frost Ridge is populated with characters with Asian, Italian and Indian names, as well as several African-American characters. Most of the characters struggle a bit economically, which is more realistic than having them all live in multimillion dollar houses! Middle grade readers like to know that other children are struggling with parents who fight or parents who are worried about their jobs.
Clementine is a fantastic character, too, and her service in the hospital is well-described.
There are not many Christmas related books for middle grade readers, and the cover on this is great, although I would have liked to see one of Josie's grandmother's sweaters in the picture somewhere! Fans of thought-provoking novels like Bauer's Almost Home, Booth's Kinda Like Brothers, or Schroeder's It's Raining Cupcakes will enjoy this tale of community service around the holidays.
I liked this much more than this author's The Angel Tree which was much sadder and felt forced.