This past week my family packed the car and drove two hours up the Maine coast to visit my uncle for the Fourth of July. Just before leaving, my 13-year-old son, Asher, spotted Mitali Perkins’ new middle grade novel, Hope in the Valley, on my desk.
“Can I bring this?” he asked.
I hesitated. The book was so beautiful. What if something happened to it? Also, I needed it to write a review as soon as we drove home. But who was I, an English teacher, to deny my son the pleasure of reading?
“Sure,” I said. “Just be careful with it.”
At my uncle’s woodsy cottage, Asher and his younger brother rolled out their sleeping bags in a shed, enjoying all the summertime glories of camping out, complete with a visit from a passing skunk. Late that night, when I sneaky-snuk across the lawn to check on them before heading to bed, the shed light was still on. Through the window, there was Asher lying in his sleeping bag, nose in his book, with his little brother sleeping beside him.
“I only got one hour of sleep,” Asher confessed the next morning. “I finished the book.”
No endorsement could possibly equal that of a kid who stayed up all night reading. Such is the magic of a story well-told. And, indeed, Perkins’ novel, which releases on July 11, brought me back to my own childhood whiling away summer days with my own nose in a book. However, unlike my son, I read Hope in the Valley slowly, savoring Perkins’ deft writing and skillfully layered plot.
But, alas, when we returned home and I sat down to write my review, we couldn’t find the book, which we’d last seen sitting on a sawhorse outside my uncle’s shed. A quick phone call to my uncle assured me the book was safe. But what to do about my review? Asher good naturedly agreed to help.
He wrote, “Hope in the Valley is about a 12-year-old Indian-American girl, Pandita Paul, who lives in Silicon Valley and is dealing with the grief of losing her mother. The abandoned house across the street is where Pandita used to go as a secret place with her ma. But when it is going to be torn down to make room for supposedly affordable housing, Pandita bands up with the historical society to save it. The worst part, her sister is one of the people trying to tear the house down.”
Perkins’ novel, which takes place one summer during the 1980s, deals with all the insecurities and fluctuations of middle school, including a falling-out with a best friend, reluctantly joining a drama program, the first flutterings of romantic feelings, and hostility toward her father’s girlfriend. Through it all, Pandita must find her voice to speak up for what matters. Most beautifully, Perkins subtlety weaves in questions about what is worth preserving from the past while moving forward with our lives.
In Asher’s words, “This book is a gem and a must read. I highly recommend it.”
I wholeheartedly agree and look forward to adding it to my classroom library – just as soon as I retrieve the book from my uncle.
Meadow Rue Merrill is the author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, and of the Lantern Hill Farm picture book series, celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. She writes and reads in a little house in the big woods of Mid-coast Maine. A review copy of this book was provided for free by the publisher. Get in touch at: meadowrue.com