Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dysfunctional U.S. Families

Applewhites at Wit's End (Applewhites Family, #2)
Tolan, Stephanie. The Applewhites at Wit's End.
8 May 2012, HarperCollins
Nominated for the Cybils by Melissa at One Librarian's Book Reviews

This sequel to Surviving the Applewhites (2002) focuses more on the eccentric family living at Wit's End rather than on Jake, the boy who ends up being fostered by them. The family is having monetary problems, and decides to solve them by having a summer camp for creative children. They manage to get a few children to come, but they turn out to be spoiled, demanding, and interested in following their own programs. E.D. and Jake end up in charge as the parents and various relatives are conspicuously absent for most of the book. There are problems galore, but the major one is a state inspector who threatens to shut down the camp for code violations, which is no surprise, since nothing seems to be organized. Eventually, the adults pull together to save the farm, after the children avert the most pressing danger.
Strengths: This is "kids saving the day" mixed with "quirky dysfunctional" at its finest. Readers who like Southern fiction and artistic characters will be satisfied with this series, which leaves room for a third book.
Weaknesses: This has not been a title that circulated well at my library. At one point, I think Tolan lived in the Columbus area and may even have done an author visit, because we have quite a collection of her work.

The Five Lives of Our Cat ZookRocklin, Joanne. The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook
1 April 2012, Harry Abrams
Nominated for the Cybils by Laura Purdie Salas

Oona and her brother Fred are still coping with the death of their father from cancer a few years ago when their cat, Zook (short for zucchini) starts to have problems with kidney failure. In order to help Fred, Oona starts to tell him stories about the different lives the cat has had, just like their father used to tell stories to them. The two are also dealing with the fact that their mother is dating a man they don't like. Dylan is a male nurse, and ends up being very helpful in dealing with Zook's treatment, and Oona and Fred get a lot of support from their  close-knit, multicultural Californian neighborhood. Unfortunately, Zook is not going to make it, and the family has to put the cat down. Oona deals with many problems surrounding how she got Zook (she lies quite a bit), problems with friends who become estranged, and with her mother moving on after her father's death.
Strengths: This was a very compelling book, even though I knew that Zook would not have a happy ending. Readers of Rocklin's first book, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street will enjoy this story as well.
Weaknesses: While this could be used as bibliotherapy for those who have to have a pet put to sleep, not all children will be able to deal with the detailed description of the cat being taken to the vet and euthanized. Rocklin does a very good job of this, and makes it sound like a good thing for Zook, but it is still hard to read. I had a bit of trouble believing that the two children were allowed to roam unaccompanied around their urban neighboorhood and to work dancing in food costumes in front of the local pizza shop. (They are about ten and five.)


  1. Oh wow! I didn't know that Surviving the Applewhites has a sequel! I squealed when I saw this post of yours. It's one of my favorite novels of all times. :) Hopefully, we have a copy of this book here in Singapore. :)

  2. I liked The Five Lives of our Cat Zook - it didn't make my CYBILS shortlist, but I have recommended it to book club groups at my school.