Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Book Review: Greetings from Nowhere

Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor. (Grades 4-7.)

Book trailers work. At least, for me they work. Awhile back, Betsy posted the book trailer for Greetings from Nowhere over on A Fuse #8 Production. I didn't know anything about the book and I was immediately sucked in by the trailer. The music, the images... I wanted to read it.

Well. I read it. And I loved it.

Greetings from Nowhere is the story of four people. Aggie, Willow, Kirby, and Loretta are each missing something. Aggie is missing her husband Harold who has recently died and left the Sleepy Time Motel in her care. Without Harold, Aggie's not sure how she can take care of the place, even though she loves it so.

Enter Willow. Willow's mother has left the family and her parents are divorced. When Willow's dad Clyde sees a for-sale ad for the Sleepy Time Motel, he thinks he's found a way to start a completely new life. So he uproots Willow and takes her with him to buy a motel in the Smoky Mountains.

Enter Kirby and Loretta. Kirby and Loretta each come to stay at the Sleepy Time Motel for very different reasons. Kirby is on his way to a strict boarding school, a last-chance school since he caused so much trouble in his previous schools. He has anger bottled up inside of him because of a no-show father and an emotionally abusive mother and it makes him mean. Because no one's ever liked him, he sees no reason to be pleasant or to try and open up to people. They'll only disappoint him.

Loretta is pretty much the polar opposite of Kirby. She's upbeat, friendly, and talkative. She can see the silver lining to everything. She's at the Sleepy Time Motel because of a bracelet. Loretta was adopted as a baby and her birth mother has died. Loretta received a package with all her "other" mother's belongings, including a charm bracelet with charms from different places. Deciding to visit one of the places from the charm bracelet, Loretta's family ended up at the Smoky Mountains and Loretta begins searching for that nameless something she didn't know was missing in the first place.

All four of them come together at the Sleepy Time Motel and they'll all change each others' lives.

I found this book to be unspeakably sad, but also terrifically hopeful. Certain passages made me teary right from the beginning, like this one where Aggie has realized that she'll have to sell the motel:

"For Sale, she wrote, and felt a jab in her heart.

Sleepy Time Motel. Shawnee Gap, North Carolina.

Another jab.

Ten lovely rooms with mountain view. Swimming pool. Tomato garden.

Jab, jab.

For sale by owners, Harold and Agnes Duncan.

Then she felt a jab that nearly knocked her over. Her hand trembled so much she could hardly keep the pen on the paper as she scratched out Harold's name." (pg 8)

The book is totally focused on the characters and I loved each one of them. I only wish we could know more about the secondary characters, particularly Willow's dad and Kirby's mom who are both portrayed as kind of awful. I'd love to see the story from their points of view, too. I thought Ms. O'Connor did a great job of keeping each of their voices separate. Each chapter has an illustration of the mountains or motel with the character's name. I noticed that as the story moves along, Willow, Kirby, and Loretta all have the same picture throughout, but Aggie's changes. It's like she's such a part of this place, of the motel, of the mountains, that she embodies all of it. Every part of the setting is in her.

And the setting is another thing I loved about this book. I could see the mountains, the dried-up swimming pool, the weedy parking lot, the musty rooms, the tomato garden... it all really came alive for me.

I thought this book was excellent.

I poked around a bit and haven't come across much Newbery buzz, but I'd be happy to throw it out there for consideration. Becky gave it four stars, Karen read it out loud to her class (and posted about their reactions), Franki loved it, Megan loved it, and it's on the short list for the Anokaberry (so that's some Newbery buzz, at least!).