This is a finely crafted novel. Sarah deFord Williams draws on middle grade standards (a long lost diary, secret attic rooms, the odd and misunderstood neighbour, a creative and sensitive protagonist) to create a deeply satisfying read. Her prose is luminous and full, wrapping the reader in a cozy narrative that feels at once original and familiar. This is exactly the balance you should aim for in a middle grade novel, and Williams nails it her first time out of the gate.
In addition to her lovely use of language, Williams is skilled at creating believable family dynamics. Despite irritations and misunderstandings, this is a family that genuinely cares about each other. The Brooks have been through some hard times, but have emerged stronger as a family unit. Sherri, the new stepmom who is now pregnant with Sadie and ZuZu’s half-brother or sister, is particularly well drawn. She is a loving mother to her two adopted daughters, who have come to love her. Bella, whose real name is Kristin, is at odds her with mother, a conflict which is (eventually) resolved nicely and authentically.
There is no shortage of drama here, but the overall tone is gentle and the issues are dealt with sensitively. Palace Beautiful combines the best parts of historical fiction and contemporary drama into a thouroughly enjoyable novel. I look forward to what author Sarah deFord Williams does next.
Palace Beautiful is available now from G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.