Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kid Konnection: 13 Gifts

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a middle grade read from one of my favorite authors!

Summary: It doesn't take long for Tara Brennan to realize that breaking into school to steal a goat while wielding a can of pepper spray is not a good idea. As punishment for her misdeed, Tara's parents send her to the sleepy little town of Willow Falls to stay with relatives she hardly knows, including her eleven-year-old cousin Emily, who, the last time they were together, ate an entire stick of glue. Tara quickly learns that Emily isn't even remotely the strangest person in town. There's a boy who sings in the bottom of an empty pool, two best friends who use blackboards to Communicate (Amanda and Leo from 11 BIRTHDAYS), and a green-eyed girl who may—or may not—be dating the world's hottest teen movie star (Rory from FINALLY)

Due to another huge lapse in judgment, Tara finds herself beholden to perhaps the strangest person of all: Angelina D'Angelo. If Tara can't collect thirteen mysterious objects for the old woman in time for her rapidly approaching thirteenth birthday, the consequences will be REALLY BAD. Like losing-her- immortal-soul kind of bad. And that's just for starters! Tara's adventures take her and her new friends to places they'd never thought they'd find, some in the real world, and a lot deep inside themselves.

With a big dose of birthday magic, 13 Gifts will make readers laugh, think, and possibly even hum a show tune or two. Because, in Willow Falls, anything's possible, and nothing is as it seems. -- Scholastic Press

Booking Daughter and I both count Wendy Mass as one of our favorite authors. We recently read THE CANDYMAKERS (my review) for our Mother/Daughter Book Club, and we both adored it. And I still count JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE as one of my favorite middle grade fiction books ever (my review!) So needless to say, I was very excited to read her latest tween novel 13 GIFTS.

13 GIFTS tells the story of Tara, a tween girl who is a little bit lost. She's having issues with her mom (what girl doesn't?) and she's also having a hard time making friends because her family moves so much. When Tara gets caught trying to steal a goat (yes a goat!) from her high school principal's office, her mother ends up sending her to live with her aunt in the town of Willow Falls for the summer. On the way to Willow Falls, she finds herself in a bit of a mess, and she is forced to make a bargain with a very strange old woman. In exchange for some money, Tara must collect thirteen objects that exist somewhere in Willow Falls -- a scavenger hunt, if you will. Along the way, Tara meets many interesting individuals and makes some special friends. And most importantly, she learns a great deal about herself and her family!

For those of you familiar with Wendy Mass, you know that 13 GIFTS is the third book that takes place in Willow Falls, the town where unusual things happen and also the home of the mysterious Angelina D'Angelo. Fans of these books will be happy to see a return of some favorite characters including Amanda, Leo, and Rory. And while there are some references to the past books, 13 GIFTS definitely works as a stand-alone. My only warning is that you might become curious enough about the characters that you want to go back and read the first two books. But that's not a bad thing.

I enjoyed 13 GIFTS, but I don't think I'd go so far as to say I loved it. There were lots of very good things about 13 GIFTS, but it wasn't a book that affected me like some other Wendy Mass novels. I did love the characters, especially Tara; and I enjoyed the mystery surrounding the 13 items. However, for some reason I just didn't relate as much to this book as I hoped. And that surprised me because the "tween me" did have quite a few things in common with Tara.

That's not to say that I wasn't entertained by 13 GIFTS. It was a fun read with fun characters and I liked how much humor existed in the story. In addition, I enjoyed that there were a lot of secrets in this novel. For example, there was a mystery surrounding a few of the secondary characters like Amanda and Leo. There were also mysteries surrounding the thirteen items and even a secret or two surrounding Tara's parents. There is no doubt that these elements of intrigue kept my interest, and I'm sure tween readers will agree.

I don't want to give too much away about the ending of the novel, but the last few pages are an essay which Tara writes for a school assignment. In this essay, she describes the many things she learned during her summer in Willow Falls. Overall, I did think this was a great way to end the book, and most of the messages were very sweet and relevant to tweens. But I'm not entirely sure that I wholeheartedly agreed with a major one of the messages about an individual's motives versus actions, i.e. charity. I won't go so far as to say I strongly disagree and have issues with that message in 13 GIFTS, but I do think it differs from my religious beliefs and what I try to teach my children. Having said that, I do acknowledge that the idea is a popular one; and I like that this book gives me the opportunity to discuss it with Booking Daughter.

And that brings me to my next point. 13 GIFTS is a terrific book for tweens to discuss. In fact, I actually think many girls will be able to relate to Tara and some of her insecurities about friendships, school, and even the relationship with her parents. I wasn't able to find a reader or classroom guide yet, but I'm sure you can find plenty to discuss on your own. Some of the important themes in 13 GIFTS include friendships, parent/child relationships, first love, charity, sacrifice, choices, repercussions, honesty, forgiveness, secrets, motives vs. actions, and even some questions about spirituality. As I mentioned earlier, I even think that some of the messages in this book might be up for a little bit of discussion depending on your religious beliefs.

While 13 GIFTS wasn't my all-time favorite Wendy Mass book, I still enjoyed it a great deal. Would I recommend it to tweens? Heck yeah! It's Wendy Mass!

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too! 


bermudaonion said...

I love Wendy Mass books too! I'm really looking forward to this one.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I haven't read anything by Wendy Mass ... I'll look for some of the earlier books you mention for my younger daughter.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm totally curious now about the messages in this book!

Anonymous said...

Mmmm I don't know Wendy Mass but this looks really interesting. Very cool.

Anonymous said...

Mmmm I don't know Wendy Mass but this looks really interesting. Very cool.

Serena said...

Despite the message that is contrary to your beliefs, that would make it a good book club discussion book for sure. Sounds like an interesting scavenger hunt idea with a twist.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this is something my daughter would enjoy or not. Probably not.