by Julie Mathison
Starr Creek Press
Middle Grade Historical
Full of humor and wonder, BELIEVE explores the power and limits of the imagination – and how love both breaks and heals our hearts.
Eleven-year-old Melanie knows she's special. She's never been bored. She understands the secret language of old houses and makes jewels out of broken glass. Her imagination can do anything -- except make friends. It's 1980, and life as a fifth grader at Buckminster Experimental School is lonely at best, when she's not dodging Karen, the school bully. Then, Melanie meets Sabrina, who looks like a TV star and acts like a spy, and who doesn't care what anyone thinks. She teaches Melanie how to believe in herself, and soon Melanie starts living her dreams. She even lands the lead in Peter Pan!
If only she could share it all with Mom. Missing her mom is like trying to breathe with one lung. It's bad. Sabrina thinks they can track her down, and Melanie wants to believe, but sometimes it's easier to pretend. Her new life feels like a house of cards, until one day it all comes crashing down and she finds herself with no choice but to face the truth… and let go.
This quirky, heartfelt middle-grade novel about grief and the resilience of the human spirit will keep you guessing until the end.
With tons of heart, thought and emotion, this is a journey of a girl finding herself.
Melanie is a fifth grader, who keeps to herself and doesn't fit in with the rest of the kids. During one of the regular bullying sessions, she finds a new friend at her side. This friend is exactly the push she needs to gain courage not only to stand up for herself but also to learn who she is and what she even wants. Melanie also begins the journey of healing as she takes the hunt for her missing mother into her own hands...one that leads to a few surprises along the way.
Melanie is a lovely girl, who has shielded herself off from others. Her awkwardness is endearing but not as much as her heart of gold. Her very active imagination is what will capture readers as she tries to fiddle her way and find her place in the world. But then, fifth graders will easily relate to how awkward fitting in or standing out can be.
The story shines thanks to two main twists. The first one is already clear in the first pages, but young readers probably won't pick up on it for quite some time. It adds a nice touch which had me smiling. The second is also a bit predictable, but it definitely adds the intriguing punch. Especially the ending picked up pace and edged this closer to a four star review, but it wasn't quite enough.
This read is short and entertaining. Young readers will find quite a bit to sympathize with and feel connected to. The ideas of bullying, learning who you are, friendship, loss, overcoming certain fears, and embracing family are all wonderful messages and perfect for the intended age group. While so much is included, I found myself skipping paragraphs again and again...and still, had no trouble keeping up with the tale. Also, this is placed in the 1980's. The author brings in quite a bit of pop-culture from that time, and while she does take the time to explain the important references, I'm not sure it will interest this age group or resonate with them.
All in all, this is a lovely tale with tons of goodness. I'm sure the right reader will enjoy it quite a bit.