(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Verbena Colter has always been embarrassed by her older-than-everyone-else's father and her overweight, scrapbooking-obsessed mother. Lately, she can't quite keep her disdain for them, or any of her other boiling emotions, inside. When she discovers her parents aren't actually her parents, things begin to make sense. Verbena's biological father is in prison, which explains her recent mean streak. Bad blood, clearly. Her biological mother isn't much better. As a result of the woman drinking while pregnant, Verbena has fetal alcohol syndrome. The condition is to blame for the 11-year-old's small size, poor eyesight, and learning disabilities. Not that these revelations make anything easier. Really, they just make Verbena's misery worse.
As Verbena agonizes over her unlucky situation, a younger boy moves in across the street. Pooch, who's from New York City, will be staying upstate with his mother for the summer. Considering the history of the house Pooch lives in (a girl died in the pond nearby), Verbena decides to shed her unwanted identity for that of another. She convinces her 9-year-old neighbor that she's the ghost of the dead girl. Pooch is the gullible sort, which leads to all kinds of fun for Verbena.
Despite her duplicity, the friendship between Verbena and Pooch grows, leading her to some startling realizations. Maybe she's genetically wired for trouble-making, but maybe not—maybe it's her choices that determine her destiny. And maybe the life she's living isn't so bad after all. Sure, it's got its bumps and it's certainly more complicated than it appears. Still, it's hers and maybe, just maybe, she'll keep it after all.
As Simple as It Seems by Sarah Weeks tells a warm-hearted, thoughtful tale about a young girl's struggles with herself, her parents, and the realities of growing up. With no wasted words, the novel's taut, but also tender and real. Anyone who's ever felt out of place will identify with Verbena. It's difficult not to root for her in her fight to find herself. With a sympathetic heroine, a compelling storyline, and a touching message, As Simple as It Seems is an impacting tale that I very much enjoyed.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't really think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for scenes of peril and references to alcohol abuse
To the FTC, with love: Another library