A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
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What's the story?
Five classmates find a journal kept by a boy who ran away from his stepfather, which prompts them to tell their own stories of stepfamilies. Rarely has any author so effectively gotten inside the heads of children from broken homes with such insight and clear-eyed understanding.
Is it any good?
Anne Fine does so much right in the book, beginning with the spooky old mansion and the finding of the journal and its Dickensian melodrama. But it's the stories the modern children tell that resonate with readers, both those who have had similar experiences and those who haven't. The book is not about solving problems, but about simply dealing with them. All of the children get a chance to express themselves, and to realize (along with readers) that they are not alone.
The children are sometimes too sophisticated in their insight, becoming merely the mouthpiece for the message, but the way they think and feel is on target. Notably, and most important, the author recognizes and validates the anger many children feel when the adults who should be caring for them cause their lives to spin out of control, and then expect them to just adjust and be happy. It's not all happy endings here, but it does have the taste of reality.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about complicated family relationships. If divorce and remarriage are part of your family's story, this could be an opening to talk about the stresses -- and benefits -- of this complex structure. Adult relationships are at the core of divorce and new relationships; where do children's voices fit in the picture?