- The Key to Every Thing by Pat Schmatz
ISBN 978-0-7636-9566-8 $16.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-6
Rising sixth-grader Tash heads off to camp in a snit, furious that she’s being sent and still seething from a battle royale with Cap’n Jackie, the neighbor who’s a de facto grandmother to Tash. The girl turns out to love camp and begins to regret her hurtful treatment of her dear friend, who introduced her to the power of imagination, but upon returning home she finds that Jackie had a bad fall. Now Cap’n Jackie’s in a rehab facility and withdrawing from the world, and Tash is desperate to find a way to connect with her and receive forgiveness. Schmatz adroitly keeps the story poignant but not sentimental, even through sad reveals about Tash’s backstory (abandoned by her parents, now living with a loving great-uncle, terrified of being alone). Tash may be frightened but she’s also fierce, and while sometimes her “ragers” take her too far, it’s refreshing that the open expression of anger is part of her bond with stubborn and tempestuous Jackie. The book unfurls some information with deliberate slowness rather than relying on immediate contextual explanation, which lends authenticity to the experience of stepping into the middle of somebody’s life. Ultimately, this is a touching story about human connections both lost and found, and it will be suitable as a chapter-by-chapter readaloud as well as a readalone.