Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book Review: Strawberry Hill

Strawberry Hill by Mary Ann Hoberman. (Grades 4-6.)
Reviewed from ARC provided by Little, Brown.

(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)

When Allie gets the news that her family will be moving, she's not pleased at all. She doesn't want to leave her school and her best friend Ruthie whose family owns the duplex Allie lives in. But when Allie finds out that the name of her new street is Strawberry Hill, she throws her hesitations out the window. Strawberry Hill! What a magical place! She can just picture the cozy houses on a quaint little street that ends with a big hill covered in strawberries.

When Allie arrives at Strawberry Hill, it doesn't quite meet her expectations, but the adventures she has during her first year on Strawberry Hill will change her in unexpected ways. Strawberry Hill is about making friends, losing friends, and figuring out just who you are. It's a coming-of-age story will a classic, timeless feel.

As I was reading Strawberry Hill, I was trying to make up my mind about whether I liked it. It starts slowly and there were times when I felt like I was reading an excruciatingly detailed diary of a nine-year-old girl. But then Allie had to deal with some racial prejudice and I perked my ears up. And the conclusion I came to is that I did like it. Allie's voice was very real to me (excruciating detail and all) and I felt like the book read like what I would expect from a fourth-grader's diary.

Allie's life isn't simple in Connecticut during the Depression. True, she has food on her table and a stable family. But she has to deal with the same things that many girls have to deal with - starting a new school, figuring out a new teacher, and, most emphatically, friends. Allie gets caught up in a friendship triangle between her Catholic neighbor Martha, a put-together girl whom Allie likes immediately, and Mimi, the outcast Jewish girl who lives across the street. Of course Martha has some questionable qualities and Mimi is more fun to play with (once Allie gives her a chance), but choosing friends is never going to be black and white. Allie has to sift through the gray areas before she'll get everything sorted away.

I haven't seen this explicitly stated anywhere, but I'm assuming that the book (or events in the book) are based on Ms. Hoberman's actual experiences. An author's note would have done wonders for me, but then you know how I feel about author's notes. (And please note that I'm reviewing from an ARC, so it's possible an author's note will be included in the final book.)

The book reminded me a little of The Penderwicks in that it has that quiet, classic feel. It also reminded me of a personal favorite, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, because Allie has to deal with some of the same issues Sally does - moving to a new place and figuring out who her friends are. At the Little, Brown preview (as reported by Fuse #8), Strawberry Hill was also compared with The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom, which I am not personally familiar with.

This would be a good choice for girls looking for a gentle read, although there is a brief, but notable, incident where Allie is the subject of prejudice because she is Jewish. It's dealt with by Allie and her mother and would make a good moment for discussion. Now that I think about it, this would be an excellent choice for a mother-daughter book club.