On the surface, this charming novel has all the elements of a summer book for tweens- bike riding, community swimming pool, lemonade stands, and trips to the ice cream parlour. But despite a summery setting and lighter tone, Winnie Mack also manages to hit some emotional notes that make this novel deeper than just a nice summer read.
Callie’s best friend Amy has ditched her for giggling, boy-crazy Samantha, leaving her alone with her crazy family for what looks like an entire summer: baby brother Clayton is in need of constant supervision, Grandma can’t seem to look away from the TV, older brother Kenneth never leaves his room, Uncle Danny has not only moved in but is raising ferrets in the garage, and Mom is a chore-happy ex-drill sargeant. Only Callie’s beloved father, an ex-champion diver, seems to understand. He’s helping her train for diving team tryouts, which is the only bright spot in what is turning out to be the worst summer ever, until a boy calling himself Hoot shows up and is intent on pulling Callie out of her funk.
The relationship between Hoot and Callie is refreshing and authentic. Mack manages to keep it platonic instead of falling prey to Boy Next Door Syndrome, in which a female protagonist suddenly realizes that the boy next door is the man of her dreams… at twelve. Typically in middle grade or YA, a boy-girl frienship develops into a crush, which is generally one-sided on the part of the girl. While I enjoy these stories, and I know many twelve year old girls who eat them up like candy, not everyone wants to read about a crush. It is possible for girls and boys to be “just friends,” and Mack pulls this off quite successfully.
The Boone family is full of appealing, zany personalities. There are some great scenes that show off the family dynamic around the dinner table. I am a sucker for a strong ensemble cast, and in a relatively slim novel, Mack is able to introduce to a number of characters that are both memorable and authentic. Despite misunderstandings and disagreements, the Boone family is loving, which is essential at a time where Callie’s social connections are strained and tenuous.
As a character, Callie has mass appeal- not quite a tom boy, not quite a girly-girl, not a mean girl, but she’s not exactly all sweetness and light, either. She makes mistakes and learns to own up to them. She has a lot of personality, but isn’t so quirky that she won’t appeal to a wide range of readers. You could give this to a strong reader as young as 9, but given the tween angst of girl friendships in turmoil, I think it will resonate best with 10-12 year olds.
After All, You’re Callie Boone is available now from Scholastic Canada.