Monday, November 14, 2011
This isn't a typical Mystery Monday post. In fact, the book I'm about to review usually would appear as part of my Saturday Kid Konnection post because it's a middle grade novel. However, I chose to feature it today because the story actually contains a bit of a mystery. I thought it might be fun to do something a little different than my usual cozy or thriller, and WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE by Tess Hilmo is certainly a book worth talking about.
WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE tells the story of Ollie, a 13 year old girl whose father, the Reverend Everlasting Love, is a traveling evangelist. Her family is constantly on the move, only staying a few days in each town -- just long enough for a three day revival. Ollie's life with her five sisters is fairly routine until they arrive in Binder where she meets Jimmy Koppel, a boy whose mother in in jail for murdering his father. Ollie is drawn to Jimmy and desperate to stay in town and help him. She asks her father for some assistance in helping Jimmy's mother, and both Ollie and her father work together to convince the entire town that she is innocent of the crime.
I thought WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE was a wonderful middle grade novel. It encompassed so many of the things I look for in a good book -- an intriguing story, well developed characters, and beautiful writing. And it didn't hurt that it was a coming-of-age novel -- you know how I love those types of books. It has already received starred reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, and Kirkus, so it's obvious that I'm not alone in my praise of this story. WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE is, indeed, a very special book.
Probably the first thing that jumps out to me about WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE is the character of Ollie. She is such a special character and I absolutely loved her! Ollie is at a pretty rough age, thirteen years old, a time when there are so many changes for a girl; and when you add that she is moving every three days, Ollie is definitely feeling out of sorts. She is desperate for some sort of permanence -- a home with running water, a regular school, and most importantly, friends; so when she meets Jimmy, she pleads her case to stay in town a little longer.
I could really relate to Ollie and I think many tween girls will agree. She is sincere and honest and so sweet, but she was also a little bit vulnerable. As a child, I moved a great deal (nothing like Ollie though) and I remember how hard it was to make new friends and fit in at new schools -- and I was only moving every year or two. My heart just broke for Ollie, but I loved that she was such a strong girl who tried to assume the best in people (although it was really hard for her with some of the mean townspeople!) I especially admired her for her sense of responsibility, her courage, and for doing the "right thing."
In addition to Ollie, there were some other fabulous characters in this novel -- like Jimmy! He was another character that broke my heart, and I couldn't believe the pain and abuse that he experience as a young child. I also adored Ollie's parents, especially her father, who felt as if he had a calling to save lost souls. His faith and love were quite inspiring. And I can't forget the older woman who took in Ollie's family, Mrs. Mahoney. She was another person who had experienced some loss in her life but still managed to be a kind and non-judgmental person.
As a mother, I loved so many of the themes in this novel. It was a heartwarming story about some very special (and strong) individuals. Maybe it's because of everything that's happened concerning Penn State in the past week, but WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE really resonated with me. This novel showed the importance of doing the right thing and the power an individual can have. It is a message that I feel needs to be stressed over and over again to our young people.
And because I am reviewing this book as part of my Mystery Monday feature, I should probably mention the mystery angle of the novel. It is fairly obvious to anyone reading this novel that Jimmy's mother is definitely not the murderer that the town has painted her to be. Ollie initially suspects that Jimmy has murdered his father; however, when he denies it to her, she is forced to reconsider. Through some wonderful insights and intuition, Ollie begins to realize who the murderer is; and she uses some creative tricks to prove her case. The resolution of the mystery isn't exactly shocking, but it is still interesting and satisfying.
WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE would make an excellent pick for a mother/daughter book club. There is a reading guide available which delves more deeply into many of the topics I've already mentioned. There are some before and after activities as well as discussion questions, activities, and a dialectical journal. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include families, faith, courage, home, responsibility, friendship, and truth.
I thoroughly enjoyed WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE and I highly recommend it to tween and adults alike.
Thanks to Blue Slip Media for sending a copy of this novel.