Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace

Book review by
Joe Applegate, Common Sense Media
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Fast-paced coming-of-age tale about finding yourself.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author packs the story with interesting trivia -- cicadas are the loudest insects in the world, a ripe cranberry bounces -- though these tidbits sometimes stand out like sticky notes. The ego-building, ego-shattering world of musicians is notably depicted. Budding naturalists will like the passages about the pine barrens of New Jersey, with their pygmy forests, tadpole-gulping flowers, and blood-red streams. 

Positive Messages

The story presents the usual coming-of-age moral -- it's OK to be yourself -- in an unusual way. Readers learn that your surroundings can help lead you out of confusion and back to your true self. The concept of "celebrity" is presented as attractive and difficult.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Young pop star Elvis Ruby has inherited a treasure of musical talent but suddenly gets stage fright and goes to hide in a tiny New Jersey town. There, anonymity leads him back to his true self. Cecilia Wreel begins to doubt that her mother finds her very special. Cecilia seeks to recover her identity in the pine barrens near her home, and her love for this wild landscape ensures her success. The barrens power the action and draw the young protagonists toward the truth about themselves.

 

Violence & Scariness

Some dangers in the barrens -- including snakes and sugar-sand. The landscape has a somewhat sinister quality overall, with blood-red streams and tales of a rovng child-devil.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is a comforting, fast-paced coming-of-age story about a boy and girl facing an identity crisis. One is a famous young pop musician in hiding after a serious instance of stage fright, and the other is dealing with the realization that she isn't as special as she once thought. In the end, both find their place in the pinelands of New Jersey, a wild, twisted landscape that they penetrate and value. The author subtly presents the pinelands as the troubling borderland of adulthood, where a young self ventures to find its own path. Yes, there are copperheads, and the sugar-sand makes the footing unsure, but these can be dealt with. The story abounds with friendship and good feeling, while sex, drugs, and profanity are absent.

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What's the story?

After suffering stage fright on national TV, famous young pop star Elvis Ruby goes to hide in a tiny New Jersey town in the natural wasteland known as the pinelands. There he meets 11-year-old Cecilia Wreel, who learns his identity and promises (but fails) to keep it a secret. Cecilia has her own identity problem: She's begun to doubt her uniqueness. She longs to hear the trees in the barrens \"sing\" as they did (so her parents often said) on the morning she was born. Elvis, alive to the music of his surroundings, promises to help her. In the end, they find happiness in unexpected ways.

Is it any good?

Big points to HIDING OUT AT THE PANCAKE PALACE for approaching a standard "I'm OK, you're OK" story in an unexpected way. The young characters, each with an identity crisis, are powerfully influenced by the story's setting in the pine barrens of New Jersey. That the twisted landscape has a brooding, even sinister quality -- with its blood-red streams and tales of a rovng child-devil -- give the story some sizzle.

The fast pace and bite-size episodes make for easy reading, though the plotting, it must be said, lacks skill. Still, the novel succeeds in making a reader want to visit its wild setting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it would be like to be a very young celebrity. Do you think there are advantages as well as drawbacks? Which outweighs the other here?

  • How well do you know your surroundings? Can you name five plants outside? Five streets? Is it possible for everyone to get to know the landscape around them as well as the characters here do?

  • How does Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace compare to other coming-of-age stories you've read? What does it have in common with them? How is it different?

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