By Sara Pennypacker
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Stella lives with her Great-aunt Louise in Cape Cod because her mother lost custody. Also living with Louise is Angel, a foster child who wants nothing to do with Stella. Then Louise dies and the girls have to decide: do they call the cops and go back into the system or try to survive on their own?
There's a real strain of darkness running through SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS. Some of the darkness is blatant, but some implications will be glossed over by less mature readers. Stella and Angel have not had easy lives. While neither girl was physically or sexually abused, there are still reasons they would choose not to go to foster care. Stella was neglected by her mother and at eleven is very experienced at fending for herself. And as Stella notes in the text, the two girls get rather dirty and starved as the weeks go by and none of the adults notice.
In my opinion, the darkness works. SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS reminds me of some of my favorite books as a child, including THE PINBALLS and THE BOXCAR CHILDREN. (And by THE BOXCAR CHILDREN I mean the first book, not the series of mysteries that follows. I like the mysteries, but they have little to nothing in common with SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS.)
Stella and Angel bond as their deception deepens and they do Louise's work as the manager of Linger Longer, a set of four vacation homes. Stella is obsessed with Hints from Heloise, which is both sad and funny in turns. I've been laughing and learning from Heloise's columns for years, but I think this part might put kids off more than the dead and absentee parents. Angel likes to listen to her mother's fado record. Her mother sang the Portuguese music before her death and Angel uses it to remember her loss and her destiny. She'll have a home as soon as her immigrating aunt finds and job and a house in the United States. Music, chores, and more bring the two girls together.
I expect SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS will be a popular read. Stella and Angel are easy to empathize with and their adventures may not always be exciting, but they're interesting to read about. SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS is one of those quiet stories that gets under your skin. It also makes me happy that I've been giving more middle grade books a chance lately.