Letters from Rapunzel, by Sara Lewis Holmes, sounds like a fantasy title, and shows a picture of a girl with long blond hair dropping letters from a tower. However, it is actually about a very real girl who calls herself Rapunzel because she feels trapped in after-school Homework Club (because she's not quite old enough to stay home alone). Rapunzel's beloved father is in the hospital for depression, which she likens to an Evil Spell. Finding a scrap of a letter that her father has written to someone at a post office box, Rapunzel starts writing to this apparent friend of her father's, hoping that the person can help. The entire story is told in the form of Rapunzel's letters and stories.
Rapunzel is a complex and engaging character. She struggles with a nemesis named Andrew, resists pressure to join the Gifted and Talented program, and fights to save a historic bridge that's important to her father. Her intelligence and creativity shine through her letters, stories, and poems, as do her insecurities, need for stimulation, and sense of humor. Here is an example that shows Rapunzel's voice:
"My Mom's very concerned that I don't have any friends my age. I admit that I usually hang out with my dad or our neighbor, Mrs. Booth, who's sixty-seven. But can I help it if we haven't lived here that long -- and that everybody at my new school thinks I'm a geek because I can use the word "fortuitous" in a sentence?" (Page 15)
And here's one that shows her fears:
"The scariest thing I found out is that the Evil Spell runs in families. Like if somebody close to you has it, then your chances of being zapped by it are more than the average Joe-on-the-Street. That means me.
And it turns out that being smart doesn't help you either. Everyone thinks that smart people are happy, but it's not true. What's so happy about being able to see what's wrong all the time, and not having the power to fix it? What's so happy about feeling weird and different every day of your life? What's so happy about having gorgeous, superlative, wonderful hair (or a BRAIN) when you're kept in a tower?" (Page 61)
And her boredom with study hall (Homework Club):
"Okay. I'm so bored that I spent ten minutes watching the clock and saying "One Mississippi" each time the second hand clicked a space to see if time was mysteriously warped in this room like it is in Rapunzel's tower. But it's not. My hair and I are getting older at the exact same sluglike pace." (Page 104)
All in all, Rapunzel is a delight. I think that kids who are different in any way, especially kids who are different because they are easily distracted or bored in school, will relate to her. She feels real.
Letters from Rapunzel also tackles, in a highly accessible manner, the subject of clinical depression. Rapunzel's father is unable to be there to support his wife and child, leaving Rapunzel alone, worrying about her father as well as her own future. When he's under the Evil Spell, he can't function at all. Sara Lewis Holmes clearly has a real-world understanding of depression and it's impact on others (read more on her blog). For kids who have relatives struggling with the Evil Spell of depression, this book could be invaluable.
All in all, Letters from Rapunzel is a wonderful read for fourth through eighth graders, with an unusual storytelling method, and a unique and engaging voice. Although difficult subjects are covered, Rapunzel's breezy tone keeps the book feeling safe for the reader. Recommended for upper elementary and middle school kids, girls and boys. (Though I think that the title and cover might make it a stretch to get boys to read it). Letters from Rapunzel won the Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Contest.
Publication Date: February 2007
Source of Book: Bought it (so that I could get it signed at the Kidlitosphere Conference, where I did meet Sara, a blog friend of mine)
Other Blog Reviews: PixiePalace, Just Like the Nut, BooksForKidsBlog, Deliciously Clean Reads, Becky's Book Reviews, A Fuse #8 Production
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.