December 6, 2013
First sentence: "The way I got the diamond on my face happened like this."
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Content: There's some bullying, both by (insensitive and stupid) adults and mean girls. But there's no language, and the language isn't difficult at all. It sits quite happily in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.
It's in the middle of World War II, and things are tough for those who work at the carnival. Especially for Bee, who works the hot dog stand with her makeshift guardian, Pauline. It's difficult for Bee not only because she's an orphan and the carnival owner, Ellis, is a world-class creep, but because she's got a birthmark in the shape of a diamond on her face that everyone (EVERYONE!) stares at and/or makes fun of.
So, when Ellis takes Pauline away from her and threatens to put her on display as a sideshow attraction, Bee decides to run away. She makes it to a town with a perfect house, and finds a couple of women whom she ends up calling "aunts" there. The catch? Only Bee can see her aunts.
Of course life in her new town isn't easy: there are busybodies who want to know who Bee's caregivers are. There are mean girls who are dealing with Issues themselves. But there's also good people who reach out to Bee and make her feel at home.
In so many ways, this was just a plain, regular middle grade fiction book. And it's a good one at that. Fusco writes lyrical, short chapters; ones that make you want to keep turning pages. There's the backdrop of hardship with the war, there's bullying, there's Bee's "disfigurement" and shyness that places her in the special-needs class. It really is quite a lovely little novel about Overcoming, finding family, and creating a home.
The question I had, though, while reading this book is this: why the ghosts? It was a great novel without them, and I didn't feel that the ghosts added anything to the story. They felt, well, contrived. And I wished that Fusco had found another way to get Bee into the town and the house that didn't involve the supernatural. That way the book would have had a broader appeal, more power, and been absolutely perfect.
But, I guess, you can't win them all.
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I've been asked to make sure y'all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)