As much as I love young adult literature, middle grade actually isn’t an age bracket I generally read, but every once in awhile something captures my attention, and that’s exactly what happened with Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin*. What makes Martin’s novel so special is the narrator, Rose, a young girl with Asperger’s syndrome and an obsession with homonyms, which is why she gave her dog, Rain, a name with two homonyms (Reign and Rein). With only a father who spends most of his time at the bar, Rain is Rose’s closest companion, and after a storm hits and the dog goes missing, it’s up to Rose to find her again.
I am a huge dog lover, so I knew this Rain Reign would pull at my heart strings, but I didn’t realize quite how much. Although Rose’s father might be well-meaning, it is clear that he often doesn’t have the patience for his daughter, and that her uncle does a much better job. I think a book like this could be very helpful to kids in helping them understand how people think differently, and Rose’s perspective always felt genuine. Ultimately, the heart of Martin’s book is the emotional and memorable relationship that Rose has with Rain, and it is definitely a powerful remind of just how strong that bond can be. By the end of Rain Reign I wanted nothing more than a) to give Rose a hug and b) to have a dog of my own.
In Empty by K.M. Walton* Dell’s life is not going according to plan. Already overweight, she’s gained 70 pounds since her dad left and she turned to food for comfort. She gets cut from the softball team, and her one source of support–her best friend Cara–is getting increasingly distant. Dell uses self-deprecating humour to hide her pain, but inside she is suffering, and one way or another, she might have to make it stop.
Empty is a straightforward story that might not be incredibly unique but is filled with complicated emotions. All the characters are complex and authentic, but it is extremely dark so it is definitely not for all readers in all frames of mind. Walton isn’t afraid to be honest, even when it hurts and I spent the whole book wanting nothing more than to help Dell. Ultimately, I couldn’t help Dell, but Empty provides a strong and terrible reminder of what life can be like, and how important compassion and acceptance really are.
Little Peach by Peggy Kern* is a tiny book of only two hundred pages, but each of those is jam-packed with a graphic, honest, raw story. It begins with Michelle who runs away from her drug-addicted mother, and when she makes it to New York City she meets Devon, a friendly, good-looking guy who offers her a place to stay. But it soon becomes apparent that isn’t all he’s offering, as he becomes her “Daddy” and she is forced into prostitution.
Little Peach is incredibly heart-breaking, horrifying, and real, but the writing itself could be too concise at times when I wanted more depth. However, Kern definitely tells an important and often forgotten story. This is a dark book that isn’t shy about dealing with an important topic, and truly confronts the choices that some people are forced to make to survive–even in a country like the United States where it’s easy to forget these things are happening.