- Library Binding: 240 pages
- Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (July 10 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0399557393
- ISBN-13: 978-0399557392
- Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.1 x 21.7 cm
- Shipping Weight: 363 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe Library Binding – Jul 10 2018
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"This piercing, often humorous adventure demonstrates how facing the truth can bring freedom and hope."—Publishers Weekly
"The plot, full of adventure, treasure hunts, and mystery, will keep young readers hooked."—School Library Journal
"Colorfully narrated by Cricket, who comes across as idiosyncratic, intrepid, and wholly likable. An engaging first novel with a distinctive Southern setting."—Booklist
"A tale of adventure, full of mystery and suspense."—Robert Beatty, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Serafina and the Black Cloak
"A heartwarming coming-of-age story."—Kirby Larson, Newbery Honor-winning author of Hattie Big Sky
"A masterful debut. Cricket is my new hero, brave and funny and full of heart. I couldn't put it down."—Augusta Scattergood, author of Glory Be
"A brilliant, utterly absorbing debut. I couldn't get enough of Cricket's adventures. Totally unputdownable."—Carrie Ryan, New York Times Bestselling author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth
About the Author
Jo Watson Hackl was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, not far from Ocean Springs, where her favorite artist, Walter Anderson, lived and once painted a secret room. When Jo was eleven, she moved to a real-life ghost town, Electric Mills, Mississippi, and spent the rest of her childhood exploring the woods and encountering signs of the former inhabitants. Mr. Anderson's secret room and the ghost town were Jo's inspiration for this debut novel. Jo lives with her family in Greenville, South Carolina, where she raises fruits, vegetables, and many, many weeds. You can find her online at JoHackl.com.See all Product description
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Turns out, it's easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketfuls of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for-merchandies from Thelma's Cash 'n' Carry grocery store.
The hard part was getting up the guts to go.
It happened like this: There I was in Thelma's produce section, running my fingers up and down a bundle of collards. Collards never did make for good eating, but I was wondering if maybe they were some kind of sign that it was time for me to skedaddle. Collards always reminded me of Mama. She used to make me drawing paper out of collards, sumac seeds, dryer lint, and newspaper Daddy chopped up in his wood chipper. She plunked things in her paper the way other people stuck things in scrapbooks. Thread from the hem of her wedding dress, a four-leaf clover, Daddy's first gray hair. Mama's paper held so much life, it made my drawings pop off the page.
That was the kind of Mama and Daddy I used to have. (p.1-2)
Who wouldn't keep reading after a hook like that?
Soon the reader discovers that Cricket is on a quest to find Mama who ran off and left her with Aunt Belinda. Taking a cricket who she names Charlene, a little bit of food, her father's pocketknife, a doogaloo, and a small notebook full of Mama's paper, she sets off.
By nightfall she gets to the woods near her family's property. Here is a setting description that I used in my writing classes this summer: "The woods smelled like a hundred and fifty years of dark. A goose-bumpy ghost-town kind of dark."(p. 19)
She climbs into the tree house that "smelled like cedar, clean and wild," which her father built before he died. There, she reviews a letter addressed to her mother indicating her Grandmother's tombstone was to be placed on March 1-- in exactly eleven days. On it her mother had scrawled before, "I'm off looking for my birds." This brings back memories of all the times her mother left to find the "Bird Room" so she could prove it was real.
With her few supplies, Charlene to keep her company, hope, and a pocketful of clues, Cricket begins her quest--but first she has to learn how to survive living outdoors.
Like all good stories, Cricket's search has several twists and turns that test her gumption: raccoons steal her food, snow, and a copperhead bite. The last is too much for her to deal with alone and she seeks help from Miss V., an eccentric woman who provides more answers about her mother and the bird room than Cricket could have dreamt of. At the same time that the story moves forward, the author provides bits and pieces of backstory that help put the puzzle pieces together.
SMACK DAB is not only a story of outdoor survival or putting puzzle pieces together. It is also a story of a young person coming to grips with her mother's mental illness. Beautifully woven into the text is Cricket's slow realization that her mother's behavior was eccentric, unexplainable, and unstable. Like Laura in CRAZY by Linda Phillips, Cricket begins to see a different picture:
What about all the sharp looks in the grocery store? The looks at Mama. The looks at me.
If my mama was crazy, just what exactly did that make me?
The floorboards felt like they were shifting. Nothing felt solid. I grabbed hold of the wall.
Is this what going crazy feels like? (p. 141)
After I finished reading SMACK DAB I told Jo, "When I grow up I want to be like Cricket." Readers young and old will be inspired by Cricket's courage and spunk--as well as her love for her mother and the truth. And of course, also for her love for the outdoors.
The advice from Daddy in chapter 14 sums it up when he explains "Woods Time" to Cricket. He said, "I think I needed to learn what the woods had to teach me. When you're around other people, it's easy to get caught up in everything and everybody around you. Out in the woods, it's just you. And if you're going to last any time out in the woods, you'd better get comfortable with whoever it is you are."
Without spoiling the ending, I will share only that the plot takes many unexpected turns, and leaves the reader with a recognition that true happy endings aren't always getting what you want, but might still be what you need.
To follow the clues, Cricket faces difficulties and dangers, but she never waivers in her mission. She’s smart, spunky and utterly delightful. I loved the book and ordered copies for my two younger granddaughters, ages 8 and 10. I hope to see more stories of Cricket’s adventures!