(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Ever since her longtime best friend became obsessed with boys (specifically, the "Amazing" Brandon), 12-year-old Lily's felt like the only pea left in their pod. Hanging out with Hannah isn't the same anymore. Lily's tired of hearing about Brandon and Hannah, apparently, is just tired of Lily. Without Hannah, Lily's got only one real friend, her blind black Lab, Lucky. Funny enough, it's him who leads her to the surprising friendship that will transform not just her summer, but also her whole outlook on life in small-town Maine.
When Lucky makes a crazy dash across the blueberry barrens, his vision too blurry to see the big farm truck barreling toward him, it's Salma Santiago who saves him. Salma's a Hispanic migrant worker, who's spending the summer working alongside her parents picking blueberries. Lily's seen kids from migrant families before, but she's never spoken to one. Local kids and the children of seasonal workers don't really mix. Nevertheless, Lily's immediately drawn to Salma. Outgoing and kind, Salma's just the kind of pal Lily would like to have. As the girls grow closer, though, their friendship creates a stir in town. Especially when Salma decides to enter a local beauty pageant, the same one Hannah's hoping to win.
As the crowning of the Downeast Blueberry Queen draws closer, Lily will learn some hard lessons about prejudice, belonging, and standing up for what's right, even when it means losing everything.
No one writes heartwarming middle grade novels quite like Cynthia Lord. I've loved all of her books because of their vivid settings and authentic characters, as well as their focus on family, friendship, and doing the right thing even when (especially when) it's difficult. A Handful of Stars, Lord's newest, is just as touching as her other books. Lily is a sympathetic character whose big, but broken heart makes her very real. Readers can easily relate to her concern for her aging dog, her worries about her friends, and her grief over her mother. As Lily helps Salma break barriers, she also becomes a brave, admirable heroine. While A Handful of Stars touches on some heavy themes, it's a hopeful book, one that's affecting without being melodramatic or sentimental. Not surprisingly, I loved it.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't really think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
To the FTC, with love: I received an e-galley of A Handful of Stars from the generous folks at Scholastic via those at Edelweiss. Thank you!