Early evidence indicates that 2015 will be a good year for realistic MG. I'm hoping. Honey by Sarah Weeks is certainly an excellent indication of things to come.
Melody is fairly happy with her life the way it is. She has security and knows her father loves her. Melody's mother died in childbirth, and the one things she wishes she could add to her family is a mom for her and a wife for her dad. She has wished it on too many birthdays to count. When her dad begins singing, smiling secretly to himself, and becomes more absent minded than normal, Melody knows something is up. Then she overhears him call someone "honey" on the phone and realizes he must be in love. Melody is thrilled until she starts to think about all the reasons her father has kept this from her. Is it because he's fallen for someone he knows she won't like? Someone like her awful hateful teacher? Melody and her best friend embark on an investigation that leads to more discoveries than Melody imagined.
Honey has so much going for it. It is short. It will have wide appeal for kids looking for realistic fiction. It is a book that is accessible to the younger side of the MG reader spectrum. While not the type of story I'm particularly drawn to, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I typically do not enjoy small town stories with quirky characters, but Weeks skates a fine line here making her characters unique without them being caricatures. She also did a fantastic job setting up the mystery who has captured Melody's dad's heart and putting all those pieces together in the end. I just loved how organic and real the story felt. Even the super happy ending where everything works out perfectly for Melody-and everyone else-worked for me.
Melody is a great heroine. Her voice is genuine fifth grade girl. I loved the games she and her dad played with words and they all fit into the story being told and their characters. It didn't feel like an awkward vocabulary exercise hidden in a novel. (Which is far too often done and done poorly.) Here it works for the story. Melody's best friend, Nick Woo, is also a wonderful character. He and Melody have an easy friendship and camaraderie that many kids will be able to understand. They both reminded me of students I've taught over the years. Teeny, the obnoxious six year old next door neighbor, also strikes exactly the perfect note. Melody's frustration with and care for her are equally balanced and nicely portrayed. I really enjoyed all of the relationships in this book. Neighbors, old friends, new friends, grandparent/grandchild, parent/child, teacher/child-they are so well done.
Here is absolute proof that you can write a good novel with great characters, all sorts of relationships, humor, and heart, and keep it under 200 pages. Sarah Weeks, my hat goes off to you for this.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Scholastic, via Edelweiss. Honey goes on sale January 27.