Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: My One Hundred Adventures and Northward to the Moon

Over the course of the past month, I listened to two audio books by Polly Horvath:  My One Hundred Adventures and its sequel, Northward to the Moon, and thoroughly enjoyed both.  These books are sweet, funny, and heartwarming stories about growing up.

In My One Hundred Adventures, twelve-year old Jane loves her family and her life on the beach in Massachusetts:

“Jane, Maya, Hershel, Max,” calls my mother.  She always calls my name first.  She is finished gathering [clams and mussels] and her baskets are heavy.  We run to help her bring things back to the house.  No one else lives year-round on the beach but us.  A poet with no money can still live very well, our mother reminds us, and I do not know why.  Who would think having to leave the ocean for most of the year is a better way to live?  How could we not live well, the five of us together?  I love our house.  I love the bedroom I share with my sister.  Our house has no upstairs like the houses of my friends.  It has one floor with a kitchen that is part of a larger room, and off of this large room with its big table and rocking chairs and its soft old couch and armchair and miles of booklined shelves are three bedrooms.  One for my mother, one for my brothers, one for my sister and me.  “I love this house,” I say to my mother often.  “You cannot love it as I do,” she says.  “No one can ever love it as I do.”

As much as she loves her life, Jane has grown a bit weary of the sameness of it.  At twelve, she feels she’s ready for some adventures, and she starts her summer hoping to find some – one hundred of them, if possible.  Jane gets what she hoped for – and more – in all sorts of unexpected events during her summer.

She takes a surprising ride in a stolen hot-air balloon, meets a supposed psychic, and possibly injures a baby with a Bible.  Meanwhile, she wonders whether every new man she meets might be her father or the father of one of her siblings (she’s not sure but thinks they may all have different fathers).  Jane is an innocent girl, ready to step out of the protective comfort of her family and experience life for herself.

In Northward to the Moon, the family leaves their beloved beach house to travel across the US and Canada, meeting far-off family and friends.  This book is filled with even more adventures for Jane, as she struggles with some hard lessons about growing up and learns what being part of a family is really all about.

Some reviewers thought these books would be better appreciated by adults rather than their intended audience of middle-grade readers, but I think kids of a certain age – especially girls – will relate to Jane’s yearnings for adventure and her desires to both grow up and still stay close to her family.  I think the books are best suited to kids between about 11 and 14.  The lower end of the stated age range of 9-12 seems a bit young to me – many aspects of the book might be a bit over the head of younger kids.

Horvath’s writing is lyrical with beautiful prose and little life lessons within that you want to write down and remember.  There’s a subtle yet pervasive sense of humor in Jane’s quirky adventures that makes you smile.

Readers who enjoyed Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor or  The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron will also enjoy these books about Jane's adventures.


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