Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Last Tree Town

Turley, Beth. The Last Tree Town
May 5th 2020 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cassi loves hanging out with her cousin Jac, friend Ben, and her sister, Daniella. As her sister starts high school, however, she distances herself from the group and seems more upset about the fact that their Buelo is in a nursing home suffering from dementia than Cassi seems to be. Cassi is glad to be involved in the Mathletes, and enjoys working with Mr. Gordon, who encourages her. She also makes friends with Aaron, who is new to the school, and who has been traveling around with his father to live in different towns named after trees. The two talk a lot, and both have some issues to work out. Cassi is also upset about her Buelo, whom the family visits often, and she's also upset that she doesn't "look" Puerto Rican like her mother. It irritates her when people are surprised that she can speak Spanish, and she resents her frizzy hair and pale skin. Cassi becomes increasingly concerned about her sister, and asks her parents to help, but her mother is sure that it is just a stage that Daniella will snap out of. Cassi knows better, since she is reading her sister's diary, and when a fellow student takes a video of Daniella snapping in class, Cassi comes to her sister's aid even though it is not an opportune moment. She also learns more about Aaron's situation and tries to help him out.
Strengths: The portrayal of a sibling struggling with mental health issues doesn't get a lot of coverage in middle grade literature; usually, it's parents who are struggling. It was great to see a girl interested in math-- both of my daughters went into finance and loved algebra especially. The closeness of the cousins, and the support of Ben's family were nice as well. Daniella's mental health issues were described and treated in a realistic fashion, and it was a relief to see her finally get help and get incrementally better.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been more emphasis on the mathletic competition and less talk about Cassi's struggles with not seeming Puerto Rican enough. While that is a really interesting thing to explore, there really wasn't a whole lot of development. Perhaps if Cassi had tried to connect more with her Buela and explored her roots instead of just feeling bad, it would have added another layer of interest.
What I really think: This is just right on the line of being too character driven with not enough happening, so I'm debating. The family dynamics are really interesting, but the story is on the slow side.
Ms. Yingling

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