- Eight Keys
Middle school brings a whole host of changes for eleven-year-old Elise, and most of them are unwelcome: her lockermate is a bully, the piles of homework feel insurmountable, and her best friend, Franklin, has been dubbed a dork, which has ruined any chance for Elise to climb the social ladder. There is, however, one good event: after finding a key that opens a door in her uncle’s barn, Elise finds a message left to her by her late father. This is no ordinary message but rather the start of a scavenger hunt—like puzzle: seven more keys appear soon after, allowing Elise to open the remaining barn doors that lead to rooms containing further clues. When the message remains unclear, Elise realizes that she may need the help of both her old friend Franklin and a few new allies if she is to figure out what her father was trying to tell her. LaFleur depicts the transition from elementary school to middle school with tenderness and compassion, focusing on Elise’s utter bewilderment at the new social mores that seem to have sprung up overnight. Her general grumpiness and often selfish behavior may make her terrifically unlikable at times, but these are the very traits that also bestow her with authenticity. Unfortunately, the surrounding characters, often stock and hackneyed, are less successfully drawn. While the premise of a father’s posthumously guiding his child through adolescence is undeniably a sweet one, the book’s lessons ultimately reflect a simplicity that fails to take into account the nuanced complexities that herald adulthood. Nonetheless, this offers a warm resolution to the dramatics of middle school, and it may be just the thing to remind readers that childhood is something to relish, not rush.