by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars
Twelve-year-old Lowen and his family apply for a Dollar Home in a former mill town, presumably somewhere in the northeast United States. He is eager to escape their city, Flintlock, and start fresh where they could own property. Lowen in particular is escaping haunting memories of his neighbor Abe’s death, shot in a robbery of the convenience store down the street. Lowen feels responsible and holds a lot of guilt around that, because he was frequently annoyed by Abe’s incessant energy and questions and had sent him to the store to get some peace. Lowen’s working through that guilt is the real story, but it’s obscured a bit by his family’s immersion in fixing up their Dollar Home in time to meet the deadline. Complicating things is that many people in the town don’t really want the Grovers or the other families there, so they thwart the families’ business efforts, which is really like cutting off their nose to spite their face. By not supporting the businesses, they are not only failing to revitalize their town, but also making it so that the families can’t afford to fix up their homes, leaving them in states of ruin.
I ended up caring more about the characters and story that I thought I would at the beginning. This book clocks in just over 400 pages and I was annoyed at the beginning because there was a LOT of telling, not showing. But with the size of the book, it’s easy to see why – it’s daunting enough, no need to add more pages. There wasn’t really a part of the book where it lagged and I thought she could have cut that, or parts to the story that felt extraneous, or characters I could have done without. It was just a big story, hard to shoehorn into one middle grade book. Yet middle-grade it is, with a nice, tidy, feel-good ending and everything. The other thing that grated on me was that every chapter began with a header of exactly how much time had passed since the end of the last chapter – again, showing, not telling. I suspect that it was necessary in some spots and so they forced it onto all of the chapters, but it resulted in feeling not very well written. Overall, though, I thought there was a lot in here about relationships and grieving, and a pretty epic journey for this family.