Wish Girl is about a boy who is bullied so badly his family has to move, and who meets a girl dying of cancer. Yet it's not at all bleak, depressing, or even very sad. Peter's humorously fatalistic narration helps:
I got tired of my family saying, "What's wrong with Peter?"
There was a lot wrong with me. But at the moment the most serious thing was the rattlesnake on my feet.Peter runs away from home and discovers a beautiful, wild, magical valley, a place that only reveals its secrets to someone who knows how to be quiet. I loved the descriptions of this valley, and the way magic and art in the valley are synonymous. I enjoyed how the valley's magic accepts Peter and Annie (and rejects the loud, violent, mean neighbor boys).
I did find those boys—and every other character besides Peter and Annie, actually—to be rather stereotyped, cardboard characters. And I thought the ending was too pat and easy, especially considering the themes of choice and acceptance I thought she was developing.
But that valley! I never thought of Texas as a beautiful place, but apparently I was wrong.
My Life in Dioramas is as quirky as it sounds. It's a quietly funny book about a family that has to leave their beloved house because they can't afford it anymore, and the lengths daughter Kate goes to try to prevent their house from selling.
I enjoyed Kate's relationships with her best friends Stella and Naveen and the subtle changes in those relationships as they approach adolescence. I thought the family dynamics were well done; Kate's parents are fully developed characters who have their own reactions to selling the house.
The house itself was wonderful: one of those old houses that gets added on to through the years so it has strange corners and odd rooms and little quirks, set out in the country so there's an old barn and a creek and lots of room for special places. The dioramas in the title are Kate's way of processing her grief and coming to terms with change: she makes dioramas of each room of the house that encapsulate her favourite memories. I loved how the dioramas became metaphors that worked in different layers, both for the reader and for Kate.
Letting go of something you love is part of growing up, and Kate's journey is sweet, funny and satisfying. (Though I was disappointed the stinkbugs never played a major role in the plot!)