Middle Grade Review: Pine Island Home, by Polly Horvath

Title: Pine Island Home
Author: Polly Hovarth
Publication Info: Kindle edition, 151 pages, Margaret Ferguson Books 2020.

Source: Library Overdrive collection

Publisher's Blurb:
When the McCready sisters' parents are washed away in a tsunami, their Great Aunt Martha volunteers to have them live with her on her farm in British Columbia. But while they are traveling there, Martha dies unexpectedly, forcing Fiona, the eldest, to come up with a scheme to keep social services from separating the girls - a scheme that will only work if no one knows they are living on their own.

Fiona approaches their grouchy and indifferent neighbor Al and asks if he will pretend to be their live-in legal guardian should papers need to be signed or if anyone comes snooping around. He reluctantly agrees, under the condition that they bring him dinner every night.

As weeks pass, Fiona takes on more and more adult responsibilities, while each of the younger girls finds their own special role in their atypical family - But even if things seem to be falling into place, Fiona is sure it's only a matter of time before they are caught.

Written in Polly Horvath's inimitable style, gentle humor and tough obstacles are woven throughout this story about the bonds of sisterhood and what makes a family.

My Review:
I wasn't sure if I wanted to review this entry in the "dead parents society" genre of children's books, though it was a pretty good read. In fact, there was one line that made me decide I needed to. More on that later.

Overall, the book doesn't dwell on the girls' loss or their reactions to it. Maybe that's because they are too busy dealing with the consequences, but it does make a little disconnect, especially when grief does rear its head in the story. In the beginning, in fact, it felt like it was going to be a slightly surrealistic romp, which was fine. That wasn't the way it developed, and I think that the editor should have made Horvath work harder on the opening chapters to fix it.

The perspective is that of Fiona, the oldest sister, who at 14 is trying to be the parent and struggling with her lack of knowledge of the world along with her own changing needs.We see her gradually being crushed by adult responsibilities that she has no idea how to manage--taxes, for example--all under the screen of secrecy they have to maintain. Her biggest moments of missing her parents, however, come when she realizes that her sisters have needs she can't meet; basically when parenting decisions have to be made.

Through much of the book I alternated between enjoying the creativity of the girls in making their way, wondering why they didn't seem to be more upset about the loss of their parents--and being gobsmacked by the moments when they did. So what was the line that made me think I needed to review it? Near the end of the book, the second sister, Fiona's closest thing to another almost-adult, says to her, "It's so weird... that Mommy and Daddy will never know we came to Pine Island. That they'll never know Natasha was lost. That they'll never know anything that happens to us from now on."

In that one paragraph, Horvath does, in fact, capture the reality of grief and loss, and for that I forgave the book its faults.

My Recommendation:
This is a largely enjoyable middle grade (9-12) read that in a few spots really captures what it means to lose a person who is a part of you. It also perhaps calls out some flaws in the foster system, a perspective I assume is aimed more at the adults who read it than the children.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Pine Island Home from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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  1. Hi, Rebecca! I enjoyed your review of "Pine Island." And I like the look of your new blog site. Have a good one!


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