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Stringam, "Balance" (reviewed by Gabi Kupitz) Options · View
Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2011 9:36:00 PM

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Title: Balance
Author: Jean Stringam
Publisher: Bonneville Books, Springville, UT (an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc.)
Genre: YA fiction
Year Published: 2011
Number of Pages: 248
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 978-1-59955-518-8
Price: $14.99

Reviewed by Gabi Kupitz for the Association for Mormon Letters

Adele Walker is a contemporary twelve-year-old who has had it with her family. Her father is an academic, mother Sandy is the town mayor, younger brother Brady makes disgusting noises and younger sister Carmen is uncivilized. And the twins. The little twin brothers, Danny and Eddy, are an “unplanned” nuisance. The extended family is also rich with unconventional characters except for Aunt Lana and Uncle Marc and their children, Bill, Lanny and Jacey who are close to perfection—at least, in Adele’s eyes. The beginning of summer also adds to the Walker family a creature by the name of Collette, the daughter of Professor Walker’s French friend and colleague. Collette is trying to “find herself” -- and her job with the Walker family is to immerse them all in the French language. Adele is quite full of herself: “Adele could see that the greeting party being assembled to drive to the bus station in the closest little town was not going to give this French girl, Collette, a very favorable impression of her family if she weren’t along.”

As the summer progresses, Adele chooses to ignore her family completely. Hanging out with Aunt Lana, the epitome of perfection, and her perfect brood and their friends is how Adele wants to spend her time. Sadly, Adele discovers that perfection is only a veneer.

Over the course of the summer, as school starts again, and during Christmas and New Year festivities, lessons in human relationships are learned. For example, Aunt Lana has decided that Collette needs to be “made-over.” The make-over is successful, but then Aunt Lana shuns Collette who is now more beautiful than her own daughters—much as Cinderella’s stepmother turned on Cinderella. Because Adele withdraws from her immediate family, she turns to social networks. When Professor Walker discovers Adele’s internet buddy, he makes a serious choice. And Mayor Walker takes time out to reconnect with her daughter.

The characters are well-drawn. Professor Walker and his wife, Mayor Walker, are wonderful parents—not perfect at all, but wonderful because they have a sense of commitment and love which they demonstrate. They even admit not knowing everything. Grandma Miriam could be any of us as we age—our actions actually scare those we love. There is a nice balance of telling and showing. There is humor.

At first, I could not empathize with the protagonist, Adele. I found her to be a conceited, self-centered girl who flees to her room rather than help out in the family. As the story progressed, I realized that most of us have some Adele in us. It takes a lot of humility to condescend and shake off one’s superiority. As hormones start to rage and decisions affect more than one, Adele’s perfect worldview becomes more colored. It’s an oxymoron, but Adele’s balance between self and others leads to some imbalance—some introspection and action—some balance. As Adele matures, she becomes a likable character—even a lovable one.

Recommended not only for middle school readers, but anyone who struggles with self and family dynamics—pretty much everyone!

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