Twelve year old Izzy wants to be a comedian but life hasn’t been funny for a while now. Since her parent’s divorce she rarely sees her father. He’s remarried to someone too young for him and they’re having a baby soon so Izzy feels like she’s been replaced. Izzy lives with her mother who seems too preoccupied with everyone else’s problems to listen to Izzy’s.
Her mother’s dentist boyfriend has a 16 year old son, Ben, who is mean and scary. Plus Izzy now has to share her home with her annoying 10 year old cousin, Oliver, and her Uncle Henderson. Oliver’s mother died by suicide and while Izzy is sad about her aunt’s death she doesn’t really understand why it happened or why it’s making her uncle act so strangely.
Izzy knew from experience that when something bad happened to you, your friends got scared, as if they could catch your problems.
Izzy, Ben and Oliver come from different worlds and don’t seem to have any common ground but they wind up on a road trip together searching for Uncle Henderson when he suddenly goes missing. The three kids, through death or divorce, have all experienced the loss of a parent and they all feel abandoned. They each deal with feeling invisible in their own way. They’re kids that wouldn’t normally choose to spend time together but discover they’re not so different after all.
I initially found Izzy’s attitude annoying and sorry, Izzy, but I think your comedy routine needs some work. She grew on me though. Throughout the book Izzy becomes more empathetic and learns that not all change is bad. I thought Oliver was a sweetheart from the beginning. The character that surprised me the most was Ben who, while I think we’re supposed to dislike him (at least initially), I loved from our first meeting.
“Be always tender, a little fragile. It’s not a weakness if your heart breaks just a little.”
I loved that this book didn’t shy away from difficult discussions. Izzy asks questions about her aunt’s death by suicide that I expect would be typical of any child trying to understand and I thought her mother’s answers were quite sensitive and age appropriate. I appreciated that grief wasn’t one size fits all in this book; each character responds to loss in their own way.
I did have a problem with one aspect of the discussion surrounding suicide. I’m not sure how others will feel about this and perhaps I’m being overly sensitive but I was wary of the discussion of the method used. While all of the details are not revealed enough were that I wondered about the wisdom of their inclusion.
Given the subject matter this could have been a devastating book but it was ultimately hopeful, with a focus on the children supporting one another and becoming family.
Content warnings include death by suicide and bullying.
10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day. In America National Suicide Prevention Week is the Sunday through Saturday of the week surrounding this date. In 2018 this is 9 to 15 September.
If you are thinking about suicide, please know that you are not alone and help is available.
In Australia you can call 13 11 14 or visit https://www.lifeline.org.au
In America you can call 1-800-273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
A list of international suicide hotlines can be found at https://www.befrienders.org
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Charlesbridge for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
Izzy, a twelve-year-old budding comedian, feels pretty miserable about her family life – her father is remarried with a new baby on the way, her mother is dating Izzy’s dentist, Dr. Gustino, whose rebellious sixteen-year-old son Ben is a huge hassle, and now her cousin Oliver and Uncle Henderson are moving in with Izzy and her mother. Of course, Izzy feels bad for her ten-year-old cousin – his mother recently committed suicide – and Uncle Henderson has become zombie-like ever since.
When Uncle Henderson disappears one day, Izzy finds herself on an impromptu road trip to upstate New York with Oliver and Ben, the three of them seeking family and acceptance.