Candlewick. Mar. 2024. 240p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536231052.
Gr 3-7–“Every story is a love story.” Rising fifth grader Ferris hears this wisdom from her grandmother, Charisse, and through this lens begins to notice all the ways in which the actions of her community, however bizarre they might seem at first glance, are unspoken declarations of love. There’s the ghost that appears to Charisse, who wants the family to light a chandelier to reunite her with her lost love. There’s Ferris’s friend Billy Jackson, whose love for his mother who died in childbirth lives on through the music he plays. There’s Ferris’s uncle Ted and his wife Shirley, who are on the outs after he quits his job to paint a history of the world. And of course Ferris’s sister Pinky, who wants to be an outlaw and doesn’t seem to love anybody, though Ferris realizes later this isn’t true. DiCamillo’s latest work is a sweet and heartfelt effort, though it is lacking the author’s typical fully fleshed-out characters. They are largely defined by their quirks, and their actions begin to feel repetitive and do not propel the story forward. For instance, it seems like Billy’s sole function for much of the story is to play “Mysterious Barricades” on the piano in the background. It feels more like a three-dimensional painting than a story; each character has a role and a place, and readers are invited to look at the whole but static picture to examine the idea of love.
VERDICT While dialogue shows the author’s characteristic charm, the story itself is lacking a strong narrative voice and drive. Purchase where DiCamillo’s other titles circulate well.

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