Friday, April 11, 2008

Stephanie S. Tolan

Surviving the Applewhites
by Stephanie S. Tolan
Recommended Age: 12+

In this Newbery Honor book, a kid just one screw-up short of being sent to Juvie – Jake Semple by name – gets a last chance. Already banned from every school in his home state, having burned down his next-to-last school, and having been expelled from his last school in record time, Jake’s last option is The Applewhite Creative Academy. Which is actually the home-school program run by the Applewhite family – a family of eccentric artists living on a North Carolina farm.

Not exactly the type of place where you would expect a kid with multiple piercings and bright red, spiked hair to fit in.

As little as Jake wants to be there, middle-child E.D. Applewhite wants him even less. It’s bad enough that she’s the only person in the family without any artistic talent. She feels invisible. Her need for structure, and the lack of it coming from anyone else in the family, forces her to take an enormous amount of responsibility both for her own education and for her little brother Destiny. Now she has to let this sullen “problem child” shadow her, stealing the glory of her accomplishments and the love of her brother and her dog. Worse, just when her theatrical father’s local stage production of "The Sound of Music" threatens to take over the lives of everyone on the farm, the snotty new kid turns out to have a gift for the stage.

This book alternates between Jake’s and E.D.’s point of view, as each of them gradually learns to accept each other, and their own roles in the amazing Applewhite family. And somehow, the problem boy and the invisible girl prove to be, between them, the cement that holds the family together during the biggest, craziest, riskiest theatrical venture the county has ever seen.

When you read this, prepare for the unexpected. Not in the overall plot, of course – that part isn’t a big surprise. The real surprise is how a bunch of self-absorbed, not very sympathetic characters, who are constantly working at cross purposes, can nevertheless come together – convincingly – to create a harmonious work of art. And I’m not talking about a piece of musical theatre. I’m talking about family.

EDIT: Among Ms. Tolan's many other titles are Listen!, Ordinary Miracles, and The Witch of Maple Park.

No comments: