Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Umbrella House

Nelson, Colleen. The Umbrella House
June 6, 2023 by Pajama Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Roxy and Scout live in the East Village of New York City in (the fictionalized) Umbrella House. In the 1980s, the building was abandoned, but artists who needed homes squatted in the building and fixed it up. Roxy's grandmother, who finds and refurbishes vintage items to sell, was one of these first residents. The community is very close, but worried about the changes in their neighborhood brought on by a developer who is trying to gentrify the area. Roxy is very interested in news reporting, and Scout in videography, and the two want to enter a Young Voices competition run by Veracity News, which they love. They've been reporting for the EaVill Kids network, so feel they have an edge if they just just settle on a riveting topic. When a neighboring building is sold to the developer and a beloved joke shop has to go out of business, they think this might work, but Roxy finds out information about her family's past and ties to the Midnight Muralist who brought a lot of attention to the area. When the developer threatens the Umbrella House itself, Roxy and Scout know they need to act. Will they be able to save the artistic integrity of their neighborhood as well as their home?

New York City has so much rich history, and I know so little of it! I'm always glad for books like Tarpley's The Harlem Charade or Rodriguez and Bell's Doodles from the Boogie Down that offer a tantalizing glimpse into a more urban existence. It's fascinating that a city would choose to cut holes in the roof of a building and fill the pipes with cement rather than trying to sell or tear down an abandoned edifice. The artistic culture that Roxy's grandmother is part of certainly benefitted from it, and the portrayal of a neighborhood in transition is an interesting one. 

Roxy and Scout are very dedicated to their news reporting, and Veracity News is an interesting outlet. Many writers get their start in Young Voices competitions, so seeing the struggles that the two had to get their episode produced will appeal to young reporters. Scout has an opportunity to go to camp which puts a realistic strain on their project as well as on their relationship. 

I can't say that I have ever seen a book that portrays gentrification as a good thing, so The Umbrella House will be a good choice for readers who enjoyed Dilloway's Five Thing About Ava Andrews, Giles' Take Back the Block, Watson's This Side of Home, or Broaddus' Unfadeable. I'm old enough to remember when gentrification was called "urban renewal" and was generally thought of as a way to get people into safer housing, but I understand that things are viewed differently now. 

Ms. Yingling

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