In many ways, the first sentence — “It was a hot summer day on Orange Street, one of those days that seem ordinary until you look back on it.” — sums up this entire book. It is a simple book: what happens is very small, very ordinary, and yet, somehow, also very important. It’s the story of a tree, a neighborhood, of friendship.
It’s also really hard to sum up. There are the girls: Ali, whose 2 1/2-year-old brother has cancer and has stopped talking; Leandra, who is bossy sometimes, but is dealing with her own problems; and Bunny, who deals with anxiety and feels that she doesn’t live up to the ancestor whose name she bears. Then there are the boys: Robert, who is shy and insecure, especially since his parents divorced; and Manny, the nanny (or manny!), who takes care of Ali’s brother during the day and serves as adviser to the kids. There’s also Ms. Snoops, whose real name is Ethel Finneymaker, who knows a lot about the past but is having problems remembering the present. And then there’s the mysterious stranger.
I know it sounds disjointed and kind of simplistic. But honestly, it works. It works because Joanne Rocklin’s writing is so charming, so well put together, that it can’t help but work. Everything is exactly where it needs to be: every word, every flashback, every story fits together in a whole. And, while it’s not an adventuresome whole, or even a greatly climactic one, it’s a sweet whole. And kind of tart. Kind of like an orange.
The only drawback is that, in spite of its lovely cover, I don’t think kids will read this one. It’s slow. It’s lazy. It’s unexciting. Which is too bad. Because it’s a very, very good little book.