Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Amalee

Amalee

Dar Williams
Fiction
For ages 9 to 12
Scholastic Press, 2004   ISBN: 978-0439395632

When Amalee was still very little, her mother left and soon after she died in a car accident. Since then, Amalee has had her father and his four “big, goofy friends.” Carolyn, John, Phyliss, and Joyce have been around for as long as Amalee can remember and she has now decided, at the age of eleven, that they are strange. Who needs to grow up with “five parents” instead of the customary two? Why can’t she have a more normal life?

Usually Amalee’s school life balances out her unorthodox home life, but this school year everything is very different. Desperate to have friends, Amalee starts to hang out with the mean girls. She stands by when they are cruel to others, linked to their actions by her silence. It is only when she realizes that she is becoming a person that she does not like that she withdraws. Friendless and feeling very bad about her behavior, she spends as much time as she can hidden away from the rest of the kids in her class.

Then Amalee’s father gets sick. First he has to spend time in the hospital and then, when he comes home, he needs to be visited by a doctor every day. Amalee’s backup parents quickly arrange things so that one of them is always home with Amalee’s dad. John, who is a chef, cooks huge amounts of food for everyone. Carolyn paints a glorious trompe l’oeil painting on one of the walls in the sick room. Each of the friends, in their own way, tries to do what they can to take care of Amalee and her father. Amalee begins to understand that her father’s friends are more than just a group of weird confused people. They are people who, despite their own personal problems, have stepped up to do everything they can to help Amalee and her dad.

Life is confusing enough when Amalee pushes a girl down some stairs in school and her life takes a nose dive. Everyone is furious with her, and Amalee feels completely lost. She cannot talk to her dad, and no one at school knows that her father is ill, which is how Amalee like things. The problem is that Amalee has no idea how she is going to get out of her current mess.

In this powerful and beautifully written book we meet a tween girl who struggles to deal with both typical and atypical problems. Just like many other children of her age, Amalee is trying to figure out who she is. Unlike other children, she has to deal with the fact that her father is dangerously sick. With sensitivity and humor, Dar Williams shows us how Amalee copes with the minefields in her life, and how she gets help from surprising sources.

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