This book has gotten a lot of rave reviews, including four starred professional reviews. Does it live up to the hype? For me, it does not.
AUTHOR: Nina LaCour
PUBLISHER: Dutton Books for Young Readers
PUBLICATION DATE: September 15, 2020
GENRE: magical realism, realistic fiction
SETTING: northern California, modern day
GIVE IT TO: HS
Mila has aged out of the foster-care system, but she’s lucky enough to get an internship at a large farm in upstate California. The farm is home to forty or so foster kids, including some who have aged out of the system. Mila will become a tutor to a 9-year old boy named Lee. But Mila’s ghosts soon come back to haunt her…literally.
THE SHORT VERSION
This was not what I expected. I didn’t really like it, to be honest.
WHAT I LIKED
The writing. This is my first book by Nina LaCour, and though I didn’t love this one, I would read this author again. Descriptions of the Pacific Northwest coast, the ocean, and the fog really had me picturing the area, even though I’ve never been there before.
The sensitive portrayal of grief and remorse. Mila’s grief is palpable. She holds a huge secret, which was actually not what I thought it was going to be. Well done.
There’s no romance. YA books almost always have some sort of romance, so it’s refreshing to see one that does not. I love romance in the books I read, but I didn’t miss it in this one. Mila (and all the others at the farm) have a lot of personal trauma to work through; romance isn’t as important as healing. There are only two other adult teens at the farm, and they appear to be a couple. They have a sexual relationship that isn’t defined as dating. Mila is the odd-woman out, and it really works for the plot and Mila’s character.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
I expected something completely different. From the summary, I thought the farm was going to be a cult that Mila got tangled up with and needed to escape. They even mention that the intern before Mila left the farm unexpectedly and never returned. All but two of the people at the farm (Mila and her student Lee) wear gold bracelets, eluding to some sort of initiation. I thought the ghosts were going to be a device to scare the cult members and keep them in-line.
Yeah, that is NOT what this book was about.
Admittedly, I can’t fault the book for my own incorrect expectations, but seriously, read the publisher’s summary and tell me that doesn’t sound like a cult.
It’s boring. Like, nothing happens. While I did enjoy the flashbacks of Mila’s previous life, a whole lot of the story is inside Mila’s head. The actions that happen: Mila learns to make butter. Mila goes to the market to sell flowers. Mila gardens. Mila cleans out the schoolroom. Mila talks to people. Mila sleeps. Mila takes a bath. And on and on.
Don’t even get me started on Mila’s mom. What a weak, pathetic excuse for a mother. I have zero sympathy for this woman. She had a job and her parents’ house; she never once had to stay with loser Blake.
Everyone seems to be white except Terry, who I think is African American. I don’t remember any mention of religion, culture, or race.
No illustrations in the book. The cover is gorgeous, but I don’t see what on earth it has to do with this story. It looks more historical fiction, like maybe French Revolution period, than a modern-day story of overcoming trauma. Again, I had false expectations.
LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW
Themes: flashbacks, farms, grief, remorse, trauma, foster children, foster parents, loneliness, belonging, family, California, rural life, abuse, life after high school
Would adults like this book? I think many adults would like this book. It’s deep and sensitive.
Would I buy this for my high school library? YES
Would I buy this for my middle school library? Probably not. I just think this one is a bit “deep” for many middle schoolers. The main characters are 18+. For me the “trigger warnings” aren’t the problem for MS; the themes just feel too mature for middle school.
Language: medium–There is some profanity, including a few F-bombs. It’s not gratuitous.
Sexuality: mild–There is a scene where Mila and her friend are in the bathtub, naked, together, but it isn’t at all sexual. It’s about comfort and friendship during a time of emotional need. There’s a masturbation scene. There are also a couple of mentions of Mila’s mother having sex with her boyfriend, but again, nothing graphic or gratuitous.
Violence: mild–Mila’s mom’s boyfriend is mentally abusive and controlling of both Mila and her mother. The only physical abuse is that the boyfriend pierces Mila’s ears without her permission. No sexual abuse.
Drugs/Alcohol: very mild–Mila’s mother’s boyfriend and his friends are described as drunk. Some mention of medicinal drugs prescribed by a doctor and not abused.
Other: There are ghosts, but they are not at all scary.
BOOKTALK OR DISPLAY THIS WITH:
I know my review goes against the grain for this book.
If you want to defend it below (or if you agree), please comment!