Parents' Guide to

Beginners Welcome

By Joly Herman, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 9+

Well-intentioned story of sixth-grader grieving dad's death.

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A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

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Is It Any Good?

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This is a fearless exploration of the despair that follows the death of a parent, but the otherworldly aspect of this well-meaning story doesn't quite gel. A bag of donuts appears on the table in the apartment on the first day of school, but nobody bought them. The record player plays songs at will. Annie Lee's mom cleans out the sink every morning because remnants of a shave appear daily. Annie Lee and her mom shrug off these poltergeist moments as visits from Annie Lee's dead father. There's not quite enough suspense or build-up for these moments to be believable-- no one's startled or afraid of the fact that really ghostly things are happening in their home -- so they end up feeling a little distracting.

What does work in this story, and what kids will appreciate, is the helplessness Annie Lee feels when she hears her mom crying all the time. Thre's also the shame of having to wash last year's clothes in the bathtub because money is really tight and the washing machine's broken. Kids will understand Annie Lee's desire to feel invisible and how she finds solace in music. She really feels the pain of being abandoned by her dad and her best friends. But she ends up making a new friend who is fierce and caring at the same time. All of these aspects of the story feel like just what Annie Lee needs to happen so she can go through the process of growth, recovery, and letting go.

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