Steveson, Nancy Turner. Swing Sideways
May 3rd 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central
Annabel's mother is tense and controlling, and Annabel is struggling even to eat without feeling constrained. She is promised more freedom for the summer when the family goes to the country. Her father makes sure she is allowed to roam within reason, and can eat what she likes without her mother being judgmental. When she meets California, who is staying with her reclusive grandfather, "Annie" is glad to make a friend. Her mother doesn't approve of California's grandfather, who is a bit odd, so Annie keeps the relationship a secret. California's mother left home under suspicious circumstances and doesn't communicate with the grandfather any more than necessary, but since he is ill, California has been sent to help him out. Together, the girls eat berries right off the bush, spend long days traipsing around, and try to figure out what caused California's mother to leave. Annie blossoms under the new circumstances, although her mother still would like to be controlling. Several secrets are revealed by the end of the book, and Annie's summer doesn't end as happily as we might wish it to.
As major a force as "helicopter parents" are, there is very little about them in middle grade literature. Annabel's mother's is an intelligent, type A personality, and her strictures cause Annabel some problems. It is nice to see her father finally sticking up for Annabel and allowing her freedom to explore, get muddy, and make friends.
While most middle grade students don't have parents who are quite so controlling, few have the freedom to run around the countryside, adopting injured dogs and looking for clues. There is always a need for books portraying ideal summers, so readers who enjoyed The Penderwicks, Greenwald's Welcome to Dog Beach or Hannigan's Cupcake Cousins will enjoy this story of finding friends and enjoying unscheduled time.
Keep in mind that this does have a very sad ending, however.
I will not be buying this as part of my ongoing boycott of freakishly sad books. My students don't want to read these! Why do authors keep writing depressing crap? This was well-written and fairly interesting, but there are so many layers of sad that I'm not supporting this one. We have Bridge to Terebithia already. My students don't read that. We don't need more super sad books.