Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one.
But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—NoFurs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star.
Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else.
I picked up this book at BEA last year because I like Jennifer Weiner’s adult fiction. I don’t read a lot of middle grade so I would have missed this one otherwise.
Alice is the neglected child of wealthy New Yorkers who don’t know what to do with her. She doesn’t fit into their vision of what a child of theirs should be. She’s messy and clumsy and too big. For some reason she never fits into the schools she’s attended. Now she is being shipped off to boarding school in upstate New York. The school is populated by other misfits who Alice keeps her distance from. She knows they will eventually reject her too.
Millie is a Yare. They are known as Bigfoot to No-Furs. They are quiet and meek. Millie is not. She wants to meet a No-Fur so much. Eventually Millie and Alice meet which brings the Yare tribe into danger from the local humans.
After I read this I thought that my stepdaughter would enjoy it. She refused to even look at it so we read it out loud during a road trip. She got mad and put her ear buds in so she didn’t have to hear a stupid story. We did notice her listening every so often though.
Alice believes that she is fat and ugly and that her hair is a disaster. She judges herself and everyone around her very harshly. These judgements are presented as facts in the book. She mocks people in her mind over any difference. She learns to bully people to gain acceptance.
Eventually this all backfires on her and she is an outcast again. She learns to accept people for their differences by the end of the book. But I can see people being uncomfortable with the mocking and harsh judging of other characters and viewpoints before this point.
Not all of the issues are resolved at the end so I hope this means that we will be reading more of Alice and Millie.
“Naomi Soledad León Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life, her name for one. Then there are her clothes (sewn in polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, her status at school as “nobody special.” But according to Gram’s self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Luckily, Naomi also has her carving to strengthen her spirit. And life with Gram and her little brother, Owen, is happy and peaceful. That is, until their mother reappears after 7 years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover who she really is.”
Naomi and Owen were left with their great-grandmother in Southern California when their mother decided that she didn’t want the responsibility of caring for them anymore. Owen was born with physical disabilities and this was too much for their mother to handle. Now, seven years and several surgeries later, Owen is thriving but he still has some obvious disabilities. Naomi is happy at home in the trailer with Owen and Gran and their close community of neighbors. Then their mother reappears with a new name, Skyla, and a new boyfriend. She wants to take Naomi to live with her. Just Naomi.
Naomi and Owen are half Mexican but they have no connection to the Mexican side of their family since their mother refused to let their father see them after they divorced. He has sent money to Gran to help out though. Now, to help bolster support for Gran to be able to keep the kids they head to Mexico to try to find him. They know that he always attends the Oaxaca Radish carving competitions around Christmas so they head there. (Yes, that is a real thing.)
This story highlights the world of a young girl who doesn’t realize how much her family turmoil has affected her until it is time for her to stand up for herself and her brother. Her world is widened by meeting her Mexican relatives and by finding out more about her parents. Kids whose parents have left them imagine all kinds of scenarios about them returning. When it doesn’t work out in the way they expect, it can be devastating. Gran has tried to shield them from the truth but it is coming out now and they have to deal with the consequences. Gran has always been their rock and now they see her scared and unsure of what to do. Naomi and Owen react differently which accurately represents their ages and personalities.
This is a middle grade book. I’d recommend it for any kid who doesn’t know quite where they fit in the world. Also, seriously, radish carving – that is a weirdly interesting competition.
“The next person who compares Chloe Cho with famous violinist Abigail Yang is going to HEAR it. Chloe has just about had it with people not knowing the difference between someone who’s Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. She’s had it with people thinking that everything she does well — getting good grades, winning first chair in the orchestra, etCETera — are because she’s ASIAN. Of course, her own parents don’t want to have anything to DO with their Korean background. Any time Chloe asks them a question they change the subject. They seem perfectly happy to be the only Asian family in town. It’s only when Chloe’s with her best friend, Shelly, that she doesn’t feel like a total alien.”
I don’t generally read middle grade fiction but the premise of this story was too cute to pass up. Chloe can’t understand why her parents won’t talk about Korea. It seems like Chloe knows more about Korea than they do and they were born there. Any attempts to ask questions are quickly shut down with the excuse that it is too painful to talk about it.
When Chloe gets a new teacher who happens to be Korean, she is so excited. Her teacher encourages her to look into her family history. There is even an assignment to ask a relative to tell you about an event in their life and report on it. That’s when things start to unravel.
The author shows what it is like to be the only person of a nationality in an otherwise homogeneous community. He shows how books can be a lifeline. There is a great section where Chloe tries to find science fiction books with Asians on the cover and can’t do it. The only problem with having that in the book is this:
Yes, Chloe’s dad owns a fish store. But you’d think with a big part of the story focusing on the lack of Asian representation in sci-fi (and especially on covers), maybe, just maybe, there could be Asians on the cover?
Even if you don’t usually read middle grade, this is a book worth picking up. Chloe is a believable middle schooler in the midst of an identity crisis. Her story is worth the read to understand how microaggressions can add up even if the speaker had the best of intentions.