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Reviewed by:
Hackl, Jo Watson Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe. Random House, 2018 [240p]
Library ed. ISBN 978-0-399-55739-2 $19.99
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-399-55738-5 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-399-55740-8 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 4–6

When thirteen-year-old Cricket runs away from her aunt’s house, she’s on a mission: if she can find a secret painted room from her mother’s childhood memories, then maybe she’ll be able to bring Mama home for good and put a stop to her long absences. A small coin that her mother gave her points her toward Electric City, Mississippi, an overgrown ghost town where Cricket believes the artist of the “Bird Room” left clues to its location. When Cricket finds a rock with her mother’s favorite bird carved into it and a secret message in the town’s cemetery, the search is on. There’s a Boxcar Children appeal to Cricket’s weeks-long stay in the woods as she follows the puzzle, and readers will enjoy the quaint survival aspects (eating dandelion pancakes and roasting hickory nuts) as well as the oddity of the various clues. Unfortunately, the appealing strangeness of that story is overwhelmed by well-trodden tropes, including the magical but mercurial mother, the faultless, adoring father, and the wise old lady who has all the answers. Still, the author’s note that reveals that the town, the artist, and the room are all inspired by real-life events will likely inspire readers to take on a search of their own and hunt down information about Electric Mills (the town’s true name), Walter Anderson, and his mysterious “Little Room.”

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