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Room One: A Mystery or Two
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is nothing to be concerned about here, and much to admire: a main character, and an entire town (including the adults, a rarity in children's books), who are kind, thoughtful, and determined to help others with no though of return, though they do get a karmic payback.
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What's the story?
Ted is the only sixth-grader in a shrinking Nebraska town, its one-room school about to be closed down because there will be so few students next year. He, and all the remaining townspeople, know that when the school goes, the town dies. But Ted has something else to think about when he discovers a family hiding in an abandoned farmhouse. Ted wants to help them, but helping is a lot more complicated than he thought, and doesn't go at all the way he had imagined.
Is it any good?
Andrew Clements violates just about every rule of story-writing, especially kid story writing, here -- and it works. There is no villain, not even a minor-league bully, in sight. The adults are knowledgeable, helpful, and kind. There's no death-defying drama or histrionics. Just good people helping where they can, some ethical dilemmas, a little bit of mystery, a delightfully unpredictable but realistic ending -- and it's an absolutely enthralling, can't-put-it-down page-turner that will have readers smiling throughout, when they're not a bit choked up.
By carefully examining his characters and their motives, Clements makes these people absolutely believable, in a way that makes you think the people you know might just behave like this too in similar circumstances. Ted, in particular, disproves all the old saws about good characters being dull -- he is absolutely mesmerizing, perhaps because his goodness is so modest, uncertain, and carefully considered and decided upon. Ted isn't just nice -- he chooses to do right after reflection, his character and principles are the result of determination, not accident, and he recognizes his mistakes and flaws. Who knew that watching an ordinary kid try to act on his beliefs could be so enjoyable? Apparently Andrew Clements did.