Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dandelion Summer by Lisa Wingate

What a wonderful book! This is my first book by Lisa Wingate, but it will not be my last. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m a character-driven reader, and this book has two wonderful characters. Epiphany is a teenager who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. Her mother never wanted her, and for her sixteen years, she’s been trying to find her place in life. When she gets a job looking after an elderly man on the rich side of town, she’s sure she won’t fit in there either. Except J. Norman Alvord isn’t a typical old man. He’s a grumpy man who is desperate to maintain his independence, and that means running of the teenager his daughter hired to help look after him. Both of them struggle to find their place in the world: Epiphany isn’t sure about her future, and J. Norman isn’t sure about his past. Can they work together to find the answers?

I think I enjoyed this book so much because I have taught hundreds of Epiphanys in my nine years working in low-income schools. Kids who are trapped in poverty, trapped in a school where it’s not cool to want to succeed, trapped in an environment that seems hopeless. This character captured my heart, and I was rooting for her to beat the odds from the beginning. J. Norm, as Epiphany calls him, is a cantankerous old man, and the two of them together create some funny scenes, which balance out the serious theme of the book.

One short passage stands out to me. It’s from a section of the book where J. Norm and Epiphany are on the run and he shows her Saturn in the sky. As she relaxes and looks at the massive sky, she thinks, “Maybe not everyone got the mom who baked cupcakes and showed up at all the school parties. There weren’t enough of those to go around, so maybe God used other people, like Mrs. Lora and J. Norm, to make sure you learned how to shell a purple hull pea or find Saturn in the night sky.” So while this book is a work of fiction, it is a beautiful reminder of how as God’s children, we need to be involved in other people’s lives, especially when they have been forsaken by the ones who should be there.

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