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Grade 4-8–A poignant story set in the 1960s that tells of a girl coming to accept her mother's inability to parent and to realize her own strength and separateness. Ellie Dingman, 11, has a beautiful mother who is always looking for her big break into show business. She has renamed herself Doris Day Dingman and insists that her children call her "Doris" rather than "Mom." Her immature delusions of grandeur in their small Hudson River Valley town are a source of deep embarrassment to Ellie, who is painfully aware of how cheap most people find Doris. She is often not home; much of the care of her younger siblings falls to Ellie, whose father works long hours. When mean girls target her best friend, Ellie and Holly try to be as inconspicuous as Doris is conspicuous. After President Kennedy is assassinated, the aspiring starlet realizes that life is short; she leaves the family, heading to New York City, where Ellie finds her months later, not living glamorously but working in a department store. Doris returns home only once, to gather all her things and move to Hollywood. Martin paints a well-articulated picture of the times, but it is her memorable child and adult characters that shine here. Like Hattie in A Corner of the Universe (Scholastic, 2002), Ellie is a perceptive and compassionate protagonist who ultimately comes into her own.–Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
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*Starred Review* Gr. 5-7. "In 1963 Ellie's mother, Doris Day Dingman, was crowned the Bosetti Beauty at Mr. Bosetti's supermarket." This opening line sets the tone for Martin's sharp, tender story, told from the viewpoint of Ellie, 11, who is caught between love, shame, and fury when her self-obsessed mother eventually leaves their small-town home to search for stardom in New York. The Dingmans live on Witch Tree Lane with a "knot of outcasts" like themselves, and Ellie and her neighbor and best friend, Holly, are cruelly bullied at school, just as hate crimes threaten the adults on the street. There's also a strong sense of the times, including the furor when Kennedy is shot. There may be too much going on for one novel, but as in her Newbery Honor Book, A Corner of the Universe (2002), Martin takes on themes more common in YA fiction, bringing them close for middle-grade readers without oversimplifying any of the characters. The family story is unforgettable. The quiet surprise is that Doris may think she is the center of attention, but it's really Dad, who is beautifully drawn as he moves from the background to take charge of his kids and find home on his street. Like Ellie, he must let Doris go. Hazel Rochman
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