In this story for middle grade readers, twelve-year-old Rose Brautigan is a driven cello player and something of a prodigy. Her goal is to win the Bach Cello Suites Competition. She has a fraternal twin, Thomas, but he is much more relaxed and fun-loving than Rose, who thinks she must do everything perfectly.
Thomas spends a lot of time helping his older neighbor, Otis Pickering, and as the story begins, Mr. Pickering has fallen down his basement stairs. Thomas finds him, and calls the ambulance as well as alerting all the neighbors. (This Minnesota neighborhood as depicted by the author is a veritable United Nations, with people from all countries and colors and even a token gay couple. Furthermore, everyone acts like one big happy family. It seems a bit contrived.)
At the time he fell, Mr. Pickering was trying to water a giant pumpkin seed, and Thomas agrees to take over the job of caring for it while Mr. Pickering is incapacitated with his broken bones. Thomas manages to get a reluctant Rose to help, and pretty soon the whole neighborhood is contributing to the effort in one way or another.
As the summer passes, the pumpkin grows larger, eventually reaching a staggering 1,365 pounds, and they enter it into the Minnesota State Fair. [In the Acknowledgments section, the author writes about the amazing size of these real-life giant pumpkins. As of 2016, one specimen of the Cucurbita maxima species grew to over 2,500 pounds.]
But a serious accident has also taken place, threatening to change Rose’s life forever.
Discussion: This book broaches on being over-the-top diverse, and features perhaps too many “issues” with which the characters struggle.
Some of the characters, especially the “bad” ones, are a bit too villainous, just as some of the “good” characters seemed unrealistically kind, talented, and helpful. (Or maybe I’m just jaded.). In any event, Rose, the self-absorbed main character, was the most unappealing of the “good” set, which made it hard to be as sympathetic to her as one might otherwise have been.
In addition, I couldn’t help wondering throughout the whole story why Rose and Thomas thought the potential State Fair prize money for the pumpkin would be theirs, rather than Mr. Pickering’s.
Nevertheless, there is a lot to like about this book, and readers will learn a great deal about cellos, Bach, pumpkins, and even Japanese tea ceremonies and art of Kintsugi.
Evaluation: This novel offers a lot to think about, and there is nice tension and pacing regarding several of the plotlines, such as the fraught-with-peril care and growth of the pumpkin.
Published by Candlewick Press, 2017