The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair

Amy Makechnie, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Pages: 336

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Brain injury, Memory, Family relationships, Moving, Farm life, Missing persons, Mystery, Friendship

Opening: “I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her too — always leaving a bad first impression. Her idea of a welcome wagon came in the middle of July, during my first Iowa heat wave, which was as hot as you know what.”

Synopsis:

Ten-year-old Guinevere St. Clair is going to be a lawyer. She is the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to about the brain. And she wants to ride into her first day at her new school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn. Gwyn is definitely not the kind of girl you forget.

But that’s just what her mother has done — forgotten. Gwyn’s mother, Vienna, hasn’t been able to remember anything past the age of 13, since she suffered a hypoxic brain injury. Gwyn and her little sister, Bitty, don’t exist in Vienna’s mind. As Gwyn tells Vienna’s new nurse, “we’re practically orphans.”

Gwyn’s father is obsessed with solving the mystery of Vienna’s brain.  He moves his family from New York to Crow, Iowa, where he and Vienna lived as children. He hopes that going home to Crow and surrounding Vienna with familiar friends and family, will jog her memory and help in her recovery.

As soon as they arrive in Crow, Gwyn is hot on the trail of a different case — one she thinks can actually be solved. Farmer Wilbur Truesdale is missing and there’s only one person who could know what happened to him: her brand new next-door archenemy, Gaysie Cutter.

The more Gwyn goes looking for answers, through, the more questions she encounters — about Wilbur, about Gaysie, but also about the mother she’s never gotten the chance to know. Gwyn’s determined to hunt down the truth about everything, but what if the truth isn’t as simple as pointing the blame at someone? What if sometimes the most terrible things that happen aren’t actually anyone’s fault at all?

Why I liked this book:

Amy Makechnie’s debut novel is complex, heartbreaking and hopeful. Her great opening immediately draws readers into the story. The vivid setting, poignant narrative, suspenseful plot and extraordinary characters create and unforgettable experience for readers. Her storytelling is richly crafted and heartwarming.

Gwyn is a genuine and unique character with whom you feel an immediate emotional bond. She is smart, curious, imaginative and jumps to conclusions a little too quickly. Her mother’s hypoxic brain injury impacts Gwyn and forces her to grow up too quickly. The author beautifully weaves Vienna’s injury into the story as a part of Gwyn’s life experience — it’s hard to “not exist” in your mother’s eyes. In her pursuit to solve the mystery about Wilbur’s disappearance, Gwyn uncovers her mother’s past and realizes how much she is like her.

There is a cast of quirky secondary characters that add comic relief. There’s Gaysie, a giant woman who lives in a rundown house with a “backyard that looks like an art exhibit”and is known for burying dead things on her property. Gwyn become best friends with Jimmy, who is always up for an adventure, and Micah (Gaysie’s son), who likes to wear bright pink shorts, sparkling silver shoe laces and is a target for school bullies.  Gwyn’s dentist father, Jed, is devoted to his wife, and Nana, is protective and takes responsibility for everything that happens.

Teens looking for something new and creative, will find The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair a suspenseful, powerful and entertaining read. The characters will stay with you long after you finish.

Makechnie’s story also touched me on a personal level. Like Gwyn’s mother, my brain was deprived of oxygen following an unfortunate mishap nearly 15 years ago. This is the first children’s novel I’ve read where a hypoxic brain injury is mentioned. It took me back to my injury and made me think about how difficult it was on my family, who was loving, patient and supportive during my years of recovery. Fortunately my children were grown. Brain injuries vary and each person has unique symptoms and outcomes.

Thank you Rosi Hollinbeck for reviewing and recommending this book to me on your wonderful website. 

Amy Makechnie grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where shoe once tried to sail to the Mississippi River on a large piece of Styrofoam (she didn’t make it). The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair is her first novel. Amy nurtures her fascination with the brain and human body by teaching anatomy and physiology to high school students in a small New England town, where they dissect hearts and memorize long anatomical words. She is the mother of a wily flock of children, all of who provide daily inspiration for writing. You can visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

Purple Heart is a fictionalized book written by Patricia McCormick for  youth over 13 years of age.  It is a gripping account about 18-year-old “boy soldiers” being sent to fight the war in Iraq.  As McCormick commented, “It isn’t a pro-war book or an anti-war book.”   “It’s my attempt to portray how three children — two 18-year-old Americans and a 10-year-old Iraqi boy — have been affected by the war.”   McCormick has written a convincing account about how brutal life is in the war zone, for both soldiers and civilians.  It is a heartbreaking story about how everyone suffers in war.  Purple Heart is a well-researched novel.  It was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 2009.  This is a great discussion book for the classroom.

Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an Army hospital with a doctor poking his feet with pins.   He doesn’t understand why he’s there.  He has difficulty moving and his speech is garbled.   He is told he has suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Another officer soon appears and presents him with a Purple Heart.  But, Matt doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t want the medal.  Matt wants to know what has happened to him.  He’s instructed that his job is to recover from his battle wounds.

In the following weeks, sleep brings Matt little peace.  He is haunted by the sight of a little Iraqi boy standing at the end of an alley filled with debris.  It’s always the same flashback of a strange series of events happening in slow motion.  He sees a stray dog, hears the loud call to prayer by a muezzin,  and sees an overturned car in the street.  Suddenly there is a silent flash of light and the young boy is lifted off his feet into the air.  There is a loud explosion next to Matt.

Matt’s buddy Justin, visits frequently.   Justin tells him what he remembers of the attack.  Justin saved Matt’s life that day.  Over time, Matt begins to remember more and feels Justin is holding back.  He knows something went very wrong that day.  They were in the wrong place.  They hadn’t followed orders.  Matt somehow feels responsible for the boy’s death, but he doesn’t know why.

After lengthy rehabilitation and a criminal investigation into the death of a civilian, Matt returns to his squadron.  He’s glad to be back.  There is always the dust and sand to contend with and the searing heat.  But, there is also the uncertainty of living on the edge.  There is the possibility of an ambush around every corner, and  Matt is fearful he won’t be able to pull the trigger when the time comes.  The events of that day still live in him and he wonders if he’ll ever know the truth.

McCormick isn’t afraid to tackle tough and complex issues.  Visit McCormick’s website to view her other award-winning books, Sold, My Brother’s Keeper and Cut.

Note:  Although Matt doesn’t die in this story, other soldiers do.  There are support organizations available for families who have lost loved ones to war,  Tragedy Assistance for Survivors Program (TAPS).   Military Families United honor the fallen, support those who fight, and serve military families.  The  U.S. Army has a program, Finding Strength and Hope Together,  for soldiers/veterans at risk and dealing with PTSD.  There is the  National Veterans Wellness Center in Angel Fire, NM, that helps rehabilitate veterans with PTSD. And, there is a Veterans Crisis Line where veterans can call 24 hours a day for support.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved