Beginners Welcome

HarperCollins/Harper. Feb. 2020. 336p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062665898.
Gr 3-7–Sixth grade in a new school is shaping up to be a lonely disaster for Annie Lee. Her father’s sudden death and her two best friends’ abandonment has left her shaken and aiming for invisibility. To make matters worse, Dad seems to be haunting their new apartment in Durham, NC. Shaving cream in the sink and music turning on at random times to his favorite songs are unsettling and stalling Annie Lee’s healing. A new friend, herself hiding behind a tough exterior, and an old piano player at the local mall start to break through Annie Lee’s resolve to stay isolated and safe. A flyer announcing a piano contest with a cash prize could be the answer to her small family’s financial troubles. If only she had Dad’s musical talent, or someone to teach her. Baldwin follows up the critically acclaimed Where the Watermelons Grow with a fresh tale sure to appeal to her fans. Steeped in magical realism, Annie Lee’s first-person narration will strike a chord with readers and allow them to relate to the agony of her loss, which informs her fear of change and rejection. Through the power of music and a supportive community, Annie Lee slowly begins to remove her invisibility cloak and heal, dragging Mom into the land of the living right along with her. Science class features an egg-drop project, giving the story STEM connections and making the book a perfect fit for classroom use. Targeted to kids who sometimes feel invisible or afraid, Baldwin’s prose challenges them to be the bravest and wisest versions of themselves, delivering the message that it is our brokenness that makes us beautiful, not our perfection.
VERDICT Give to readers who enjoyed the gentle magic of Anna Meriano’s “Love Sugar Magic” series or the quirky community of Leslie Connor’s Waiting for Normal. For imaginative kids who appreciate a realistic problem novel with a happy ending and a touch of magic.

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