Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: "The Boy on Cinnamon Street" by Phoebe Stone

Title: The Boy on Cinnamon Street
Author: Phoebe Stone
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012

After a traumatic experience she can't remember, 13-year-old Louise moves in with her grandparents, quits gymnastics, changes schools, and starts calling herself Thumbelina. As someone who is only four-foot-seven, she feels she connects with that story best—and she can no longer be Louise. But when she begins to get notes and signals from a secret admirer, it opens up feelings that Louise isn't sure she understands, and might lead to some very well buried memories.

I have not read many novels that deal with memory blocking as the result of a traumatic experience, but I am glad I was briefly brought into this world through The Boy on Cinnamon Street. We are very slowly told what happened to Louise and her family, and why she can't remember it, through a day-to-day plot line of trying to figure out who Louise's secret admirer is and what she and Reni try to do about it.

On the surface, it's a fairly normal circumstance for young teens: someone thinks someone else likes you, and you need to figure out if you like them back and how to let the other person know you do. Louise, however, is a special case. She says she has never had a crush before except on Frosty the Snowman when she was 6, and so she is unsure if the feelings she has for who she thinks left the note are truly a crush, or if it's something else. We get hints throughout that there is more to this story, and we obviously know from the beginning that there is more than what is on the surface, but we must be patient and continue with the characters as they stumble through adolescence with the added burden of hidden grief.

Siblings Reni and Henderson are well rounded as supporting characters. Henderson is especially captivating. A nerd in the best sense possible, he is not ashamed or embarrassed of his intelligence, desire to learn, or his passion for writing. He is gentle and always smiling, and I would love to have someone like that in my life. Reni is a warm, kind, loyal, and Justin Bieber–loving (not everyone is perfect) best friend to Louise. Reni thinks she knows everything there is to know about crushes and takes the secret admirer mystery to a whole different level when she gets behind the wheel. There is also a lot behind both siblings, who have their own quiet issues to deal with at home. Reni is overweight to the point where diabetes is a threat, and she must live in the shadow of her older sister, a talented painter and poet who gets most of their parents' attention. Henderson in turn looks out for Reni when no one else really does, where it counts. It's a sweet relationship, and I really appreciated the added fullness to the story.

Somewhere in the middle of the story I was starting to get tired of waiting for the big revelation of what really happened on Cinnamon Street, where Louise used to live with her parents. I had a guess, but I was getting a bit impatient with Reni and Louise getting all hung up on a particular suspect, and I had doubts that younger readers would stick with it. It was certainly worth the wait in the end, though—what a powerful crescendo that led to the beginning of Louise's path toward healing. This is definitely a book you'll want to read near a box of tissues.

Disclosure: I got this book from my local library.

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