I am a big fan of Sharon Creech. I have taught Walk Two Moons and I have book talked her other books an insane amount putting them in the hands of lots and lots of students. I was pretty excited when I discovered she had a new novel, The Great Unexpected, coming out this year. Which is why it is so very hard for me to say I was disappointed by it.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Humorous and heartfelt,
this is a story of pairs— of Sybil and Nula (sisters who grew up
together in Rook’s Orchard, Ireland) and Naomi and Lizzie (both orphans
in present day Blackbird Tree, USA) and unraveling mysteries about
family and identity. Naomi and Lizzie’s tragedies turn into a life
filled with hope, as old misunderstandings and sorrows between Sybil and
Nula give way to forgiveness and love. It is about unexpected
gifts—the kindness of neighbors giving away their dogs to protect a
little girl, of strangers fostering children, and of young people
helping old and old helping young.
The Great Unexpected has everything promised in the synopsis and it is all delivered in Creech's signature style. Creech excels at writing books for young people that focus on the power of community. Books that show family is defined by the people who love and care for us and who we love and care for, whether connected by blood or not. The community aspect of this novel is as strong as the others. The friendship between Naomi and Lizzie is lovely too, though Lizzie seems MUCH younger than Naomi. She's a strange girl to be sure. I liked the connection between Ireland and America, the young girls and the older. I loved the town of Blackbird Tree. I did keep wondering what time period this was taking place in because it didn't really feel modern, but the atmosphere certainly fit the story being told. I enjoyed the way Creech handed out pieces of story like pieces of a puzzle and the reader can't truly see the whole picture until the last piece is in place. And even then....
This brings me to my issue. There is a thread of magical realism running through the book. At least that's what I think it is meant to be. I can't say too much about this without giving away spoilers, but it involves a boy named Finn who steals Lizzie's heart and the connection he has to the Irish story and his similarities to a boy named Finn Nula and Sybil knew long ago. And it just wasn't necessary. It was a beautiful story without that element. Adding it made it confusing where it didn't need to be, and almost like it was trying to be something it wasn't. As the book ends on this note I ended up putting it down with frustration, which is not how I like to end a reading experience.
If you love Sharon Creech this book has all the qualities her books contain, though it is a distinct departure from her previous work. You may not have the same issues with it that I did so I would certainly urge you to give it a try.