Surviving the Applewhites
by Stephanie S. Tolan
When Jake Semple is kicked out of yet another school, the Applewhites, an eccentric family of artists, offer to let him live with them and attend their unstructured Creative Academy. Twelve-year-old E.D., the only non-artistic (and organized) person in her family, feels like "the invisible Applewhite" and is wary of Jake. Through Jake and E.D's alternating perspectives, Tolan (The Face in the Mirror) introduces the outrageous titular clan. E.D.'s pompous father directs a local production of The Sound of Music, while her mother breaks from her popular mysteries to write the Great American Novel; her uncle carves a coffee table that her poet aunt defends to Jake, "Well, you couldn't put a cup of coffee on it, of course, but then who would want to? It's wonderfully soul-filling, don't you think?" Some of the plotting feels unfinished: E.D. and Jake don't formally make peace and the Applewhites never come to terms with their individual narcissism. Jake's transformation too seems unconvincing. But humor abounds in the ever-building chaos: a writer coming to interview E.D.'s mother stays to do a slew of projects on the famous family, including inviting a television crew to document their lives. In the end, it's the antics of the cast of characters that keep this show on the road. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-In this laugh-out-loud novel, a young teen on the fast track to the juvenile detention center suddenly finds himself living in rural North Carolina with the outrageously eccentric Applewhite clan. Jake Semple, 13, has been expelled from a long line of schools before coming to the Applewhites to be homeschooled. This extended family forms what a visiting reporter christens an "artistic dynasty," with various creative endeavors absorbing the adults' time and attention. Jake is left largely to his own devices, since the family doesn't believe in telling their charges what or when to study. He develops a loyal following consisting of an active four-year-old and an overweight basset hound, and his transformation is complete once he becomes enmeshed in the family's production of The Sound of Music. Quirky characters, from the cub reporter to the visiting guru, add to the offbeat humor. The Applewhites' over-the-top personalities mark them as literary kin of Helen Cresswell's Bagthorpes. Running beneath the narrative that gently pokes fun at everything from sculpture to TV documentaries, though, is also the story of a boy allowing himself to belong and begin to discover his own potential. This has terrific booktalk and read-aloud potential, and will help fill the need for humorous contemporary fiction.-Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.