Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, you guys!
Today, we're reviewing Karen Rivers' Finding Ruby Starling. It's a classic tale of two long-lost twins who discover one another, and begin to get to know each other.
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Format read: ARC via publisher
When Ruth Quayle used a special app to search for pictures of herself online, she found dozens of images of "Ruth Quayle" -- and one of "Ruby Starling."
When Ruby Starling gets a message from a Ruth Quayle proclaiming them to be long-lost twin sisters, she doesn't know what to do with it -- until another message arrives the day after, and another one. It could be a crazy stalker ... but she and this Ruth do share a birthday, and a very distinctive ear....
Ruth is an extroverted American girl. Ruby is a shy English one. As they investigate the truth of their birth and the circumstances of their separation, they also share lives full of friends, family, and possible romances -- and they realize they each may be the sister the other never knew she needed.
Written entirely in e-mails, letters, Tumblr entries, and movie scripts, FINDING RUBY STARLING is the funny and poignant companion to Karen Rivers's THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME.
It's a story with a familiar plotline, but Rivers incorporates some side storylines that makes this book a memorable one.
Things that worked:
The story alternates between Ruby and Ruth’s communications, and Rivers nails down the distinctive voices for the two girls, developing their personalities and writing quirks, while also showing how they’re actually very similar at heart.
I especially appreciated her attention to detail to vernacular – Rivers is careful to incorporate just the right amount of British lingo for Ruby, and I think readers will be charmed when learning about words like snogging (hah!) and British life.
Even though this is very much Ruby and Ruth’s story, the secondary characters are great as well. We see through their eyes how much their friends and parents love them, and it makes their home lives feel more well-rounded.
Like all epistolary novels, Rivers had the slightly difficult job of creating a realistic world by proxy, through descriptions in Ruby and Ruth’s writings, texts, poems, etc.
She does a great job, building both of their worlds, and I got a pretty thorough understanding of how they grew up, and how they were a product of their environment.
While the epistolary style wasn’t perfect – more on this later – it was definitely unique. I can safely say that readers, especially younger readers, will find the changes in communicative styles – e.g. switching between a poem on tumblr, to an email to a friend – to be refreshing and will keep their interest.
The deeper issues:
One of the most surprising things about Finding Ruby Starling, was the backstory for just how and why the twins were separated.
Without giving any spoilers away, I think that Rivers has written some compelling thoughts on how a person can learn to forgive after learning of difficult circumstances and difficult decisions, including adoption and losing a parent.
It’s a surprisingly profound lesson for a MG novel, and I think it’s going to provoke a lot of discussion amongst readers.
A (relatively) realistic view of adoption:
On a related note, Rivers provides a fairly honest look at what it might look like to reunite with a birth mother.
It’s not a perfect situation on either side of the equation, including for the adoptee, the birth parent and the adopted family. Rivers smartly details the frustrations, regrets and anger that might come up with such a reunion.
Rivers also reinforces the fact that family is what you make of it, and there are families of many different times and forms.
Things to consider:
One my biggest issues with Finding Ruby Starling, was the epistolary format. While Rivers did a fairly decent job of moving the story forward through the letters etc., it was a little hard to believe that characters would communicate via email if they were in the same house.
However, I think that this is a bit of a plotting issue that would likely be more obvious to older readers, and younger readers probably won’t pick up on it.
Even though Rivers did do a good job with moving the story forward, I thought the story in the beginning did focus a little too much on details about the lives of the two girls. However, this might be an age thing as well.
The voice was a little young for me at times, but I can definitely see younger readers enjoying this story of sisterly love, and learning how two people get to know each other.
About the author:
Karen Rivers is too thrown by the "Date of Death" drop down that has appeared below her name in the editing section of this page to actually write anything about her life. When she recovers, this box will be filled with imperative biographical information and may include SECRETS and probably also a few LIES. Now she is going to sit back and anxiously track that "Date of Death" box in case a date suddenly appears, foretelling her imminent doom.