Background: I've been a fan of Cynthia Lord's books since I fell in love with Rules back in 2006 (before it received a Newbery Honor, thank you very much). Cynthia is a fellow Red Sox fan and a judge on the Cybils Easy Reader and Early Chapter Books committee. We've never met, but I read her blog, and consider her a kindred spirit. However, I'm certain that I would have loved Touch Blue without any of that. I wanted to nominate it for this year's Cybils Awards, but Abby beat me to it.
Review: Touch Blue is set on the small, island community of Bethsaida, Maine. The population of the island has become so small that the state wants to shut down the one-room schoolhouse, meaning that 11-year-old Tess Brooks and her family would have to move to the mainland. As a desperate measure, Tess's family and several other island families have decided to take in foster kids, kids old enough to boost the school's population. Touch Blue is about the adjustment period that takes place after 13-year-old Aaron arrives.
I often read books in which I like the characters, and/or find the characters realistic and three-dimensional. But with Tess, it was more like I felt like I was her, rather than that I merely identified with her. It's not that my childhood self had all that much in common with Tess, besides a love of books, and the presence of an occasionally pesky younger sister. I never lived on an island. I never had the slightest desire to catch lobster. I was never particularly superstitious. And yet... reading this book, I became Tess. Her every action felt real to me, from scraping paint off a boat to playing Monopoly with her little sister.
Here are a couple of examples:
"The wind quivers a brown strand of hair over my nose. My bangs are in that awful growing-out stage: too short to stay tucked behind my ears and too long to stay out of my eyes." (Page 2, ARC)
"Walking across the store porch, I love the hollow thud of my footsteps on the wood -- it sounds like I'm walking on a wharf." (Page 31, ARC)
Bethsaida and the surrounding ocean are practically characters in Touch Blue, too. There's no question that Cynthia Lord knows and loves Maine. Growing up on a small island, where you know everyone, and can swim in the ocean - it's a kid's dream. Bethsaida reminded me a bit of Avonlea, actually, with its one-room schoolhouse, community-wide events, and resident neighborhood busybody. This is probably not a coincidence, given Tess's strong identification with Anne Shirley (among other literary characters).
Cynthia Lord has a real flair for creating apt descriptions with few words. Like:
"On the metal gangplank, the passengers' footsteps boom like a thunderstorm. A wet breeze off the water raises goose bumps on m y skin, and I rub my arms to warm them. The air smells, a mix of salt water, bait, pine trees, wet wood, and diesel fuel." (Page 12, ARC - don't you just feel like you're there on the dock? I swear I can smell it.)
"It's like the house is barely awake, with only one eye open." (Page 50, ARC)
"Mom, Aaron, and I make our way around a traffic jam of old ladies." (Page 103, ARC)
OK, I'll stop. You get the idea. Touch Blue is one of those rare books that I read slowly, because I didn't want it to end. I found it completely satisfying. It's a perfect book for middle grade readers and up. Although the main character is a girl, I think that Touch Blue is quite boy-friendly, too. Touch Blue has my highest recommendation.
Publication Date: August 1, 2010
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).