Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, Reading Nook Readers!
Today, I'm reviewing A Million Ways Home by Dianna D. Winget. It's a short but lovely tale on finding family, friends and strength in the most unlikely of places.
MMGM is a feature hosted by (fabulous) author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Scholastic Press
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Through the kindness of a local police officer and his mother, a misunderstood dog, and a rebellious (but kind-hearted!) new friend, Poppy learns the value of newfound friendships and how to find her courage in hard times.
Poppy's life has been turned upside down after her grandma (and guardian) had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. But Poppy is working on a plan to help Grandma Beth so their life together can go back to normal. But when she witnesses an armed robbery, "back to normal" slips even further out of her reach. To keep Poppy safe, the budget-strapped police devise an unusual "witness protection program," wherein Poppy will stay with Detective Brannigan's mother. Soon Poppy is feeling almost at home, even making sort-of friends with a girl named Lizzie and definitely friending Gunner, a beautiful dog with an uncertain fate. But it's still not home. So while she and Lizzie navigate a rocky friendship and plot to save Gunner's life, Poppy also tries to figure out a new plan to save Grandma Beth and their home, all while avoiding a dangerous robber who might be searching for her. But what if Grandma Beth can never come home and the robber is put behind bars? What will happen to Poppy then?
Twelve-year-old Priscilla "Poppy" Parker has had a tough time recently. Her grandmother recently suffered a stroke and is now in care, and Poppy has to live in a children's home while her grandmother recovers.
But when a mistaken trip ends with Poppy witnessing an armed robbery, she's farther away than ever from her once uneventful life with her grandmother. She's living with a police detective's family, as she tries to adjust to her new normal, and trying to figure out how to find her way home again.
From the start, Winget's story of a young girl who is asked to take on far more responsibility than her years, is a thoughtful and engaging one. Readers never doubt that Poppy is facing obstacles like her grandmother's illness that far exceed her age, but we can't help but also be impressed by her willingness to take them on - e.g. her repeated attempts to try and break her grandmother out of her care facility.
Winget is especially adept at showing how Poppy's innate willingness to take on challenges (or as her grandmother would say, make "impulsive" decisions), becomes a way for her find her inner courage, after she witnesses the armed robbery and moves in with the Brannigans.
Poppy is repeatedly asked to think beyond her own self-interests, in a (respectful) way that make her question what kind of person she is, and who she wants to be. She's often given the choice of making tough decisions - e.g. thinking beyond her own living situation to aide the police investigation - and Winget does a nice job of showing the pros and cons of those actions, and how choosing between the two continues to help Poppy grow up.
Outside of Poppy's living situation, Winget also does a fine job of showing how sometimes, misunderstood individuals of both the two-legged and four-legged variety just need some love and patience to find their own way. Both Gunner and Lizzie get second chances to prove themselves, and it's thanks to the love of Poppy, their friends and family that they succeed.
Though the ending of A Million Ways Home is not a perfect one, it's beautifully realistic and ultimately ends on a hopeful note. I can easily see readers feeling like Poppy is finally getting the life she deserves, while also having many questions about her future.
Of special note: Winget is especially adept when it comes to addressing family issues at a multitude of levels. She manages to cover subjects ranging from deceased parents to what it means to become the kid of divorcees, in a way that is both age-appropriate and respectful of the situation.
I was especially struck with an anecdote that Detective Brannigan shares about his experiences with domestic violence. It's a side story that is discussed in a few brief paragraphs, but it gives readers the type of background on the detective and his commitment to protecting Poppy, which will undoubtedly invoke healthy discussion.
Educators and parents will likely appreciate the number of serious issues that Winget has interwoven into her novel, and how younger readers will have a model in Poppy to see how one young person approaches those issues.
This book very much emphasizes the idea that love in all of its forms - whether it's the love between a grandmother and a granddaughter or the love between a misunderstood dog and a lonely girl - can help people through difficult times and will always help people find their way home.
Younger readers will undoubtedly find much to relate to in Poppy's journey, from her special relationship with her grandmother, to her resourcefulness at adapting to living with the Brannigans, while older readers will likely appreciate Winget's subtle (but well-received!) message that family can exist in many forms, and you can depend on them to get you through the tough times in life.
I highly recommend this book for all readers, but especially fans of Laurel Snyder, Natalie Lloyd and Laura Golden. This is a hearty contemporary tale about family and love, which will stay with readers long after they've finished reading.