Cynthia Lord is the author of one of my go-to middle grade books for literacy circles or discussion groups, Rules, in which a young girl deals with the difficulties of having a disabled brother. What I love about it is the authenticity of the narrator’s feelings. She loves her brother, but hates dealing with other people’s prejudices. The extra familial responsibilities that come with having a special needs member of the family can be burdensome, particularly for a tween, and Lord handles this sensitively but with honesty. I was thrilled to come back from camp to find a new Lord title staring out at me from the 9-12 section, all blue and summery and refreshing looking!
In Touch Blue, Tess is looking forward to the arrival of her family’s new foster child. Tess lives in a tightly-knit island community that has agreed to take on a number of foster children in order to up the enrollment at their little school, therefore allowing it to stay open. Tess has read all about foster children and orphans (haven’t we all), and secretly wishes for an Anne Shirley or a Bud Caldwell. What she gets is Aaron, a thirteen year old musical progidy who hates everything about her beloved island.
This is a book that looks at expectations and disappointment from all angles. Both Tess and Aaron experience either end of this spectrum. Although they manage to connect and share the odd moment or two, theirs is a relationship that is not easy. I love how positive and well-intentioned Tess is. Even her mistakes are made in the service of doing the right thing, which is an admirable quality. With Aaron, Lord takes great care to paint a portrait of a good kid who has been through a rough patch. It would be easy to make Tess perfect and Aaron troubled, but Lord takes the high road and gives her characters enough complexity to keep the story real and relatable.
I love a good island setting, (Gifts From the Sea, The Islander, Jacob Have I Loved, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Cay) and Touch Blue definitely fits the bill. Lord creates a community of nosy but lovable characters, including a brotherhood of fisherman who tease each other back and forth over the radio. Her writing style has just enough detail to allow the reader to experience the island as Tess sees it, but not so much that it weighs down the prose.
This is a great novel for a young but advanced reader who isn’t ready for some of the harsher content that comes with many middle grade books. It is a sensitive read that will appeal mostly to female readers between the ages of 8 and 11.
Touch Blue is available now in hardcover from Scholastic.