by Kimberly Newton Fusco
Tending to Grace
Knopf, May, 2004.
Hardcover, 167 pages.
Ages Young Adult
One has to like Cornelia. She is the kind of intelligent, sensitive teenager who reads widely and deeply. But Cornelia is trapped in a regular English class that is reading a "dumbed down" version of Tom Sawyer, while she compares the real version hidden in her lap. Cornelia is not in the honors class due to her refusal to speak and her multitude of absences. As she tells her story, the reader also learns that Cornelia has an affliction of stuttering and an even greater problem of a mother who is constantly emotionally unavailable and who appears to be more interested in a live-in boyfriend of minimal intelligence.
Cornelia's problems appear to escalate when the mother and the boyfriend dump Cornelia into the home of a slovenly great aunt named Agatha. Cornelia slowly finds her path in the most unlikely way. Cornelia develops self-confidence when she helps a younger cousin who is struggling to read. She discovers that Aunt Agatha cannot read either. In helping these two Cornelia not only unravels some mysteries about her own family, but she gains enough confidence to accept the fact that stuttering is a problem she can face not by being silent but by opening up and speaking out when she needs to.
Tending to Grace is written in a simple, direct narrative style. Chapters are not long, and at the end of most chapters is an observation by the narrator that moves the reader through the epiphany that Cornelia finally achieves. Young readers will enjoy Cornelia's journey from outsider who has given up on feeling and talking to others into a brave young woman who can accept her mother for who she is, and go on with her own life.
--Sarah Reaves White
Tending to Grace is available for purchase on Amazon.com
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This review was published in the September-October, 2004 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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