June 21, 2012

April Grace has something to say–about everybody. Her fashion-addicted sister, Myra Sue. Her pungent hippie neighbors and their tree bark cookies. Her grandma’s big-mouthed beau. And especially the crazy Californian’s, Ian and Isabel, who careen up the driveway of her family’s Arkansas farm in their “big black car gleaming like a new mirror” one quiet summer in 1986, throwing her life into chaos.

So begins KD McCrite’s middle-grade novel, “In Front of God and Everybody: Confessions of April Grace,” published by Tommy Nelson.

“The minute I laid eyes on that car, something unpleasant shivered across my skin,” says April, transporting the reader to the rural Ozarks for a story about family, faith, and accepting others.

April keeps a sharp eye on several newcomers of whom she is suspicious while her parents show genuine Southern hospitality and Christian compassion to those in need. This spunky girl also unearths the motives of a shady character, turning this otherwise quiet novel into a mild mystery. While the plot itself is somewhat slow to unfold, the author’s strong writing and piercing wit along with the colorful voice of the main character carry the reader to a satisfying conclusion in this heartwarming and humorous story in which April learns not to judge others based on appearances.

This book brought back memories of my own childhood growing up on the farm in Oregon with the addition of a Southern twang. Boy, wouldn’t I have had fun with a friend like April–spunky and interested in everyone else’s business. Kids who haven’t had the benefit of living on a farm–or spending a summer without constant access to technology–will enjoy April’s sass and the closeness of her family. This book would make a great summer read for girls aged 8-13.

Now for a confession of my own. It’s been awhile since I’ve picked up a contemporary middle-grade novel produced by a Christian publisher. With my own children, I’ve read mostly the classics or mainstream novels by contemporary authors whom I greatly admire. Although I hoped April would get involved in the story earlier, I was genuinely impressed with McCrite’s voice and description of the rural Ozark countryside in which she grew up. I’m also happy to say April has more to say in the sequel, “Cliques, Hicks, and Ugly Sticks.” So, pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea and get reading!

For a chance to win a copy of this book, donated for review by Tommy Nelson, post a comment anywhere on this blog before the end of June. Or be automatically entered for all my book giveaways by subscribing to my RSS feed (emails will not be sold or shared). I’ll be drawing a name for this book from my subscribers and June commenters on July 1!