cover image A Song Called Home

A Song Called Home

Sara Zarr. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-063044-92-0

On her 11th birthday, fifth grader Louisa Emerson discovers a mysterious guitar on her San Francisco doorstep and, assuming it’s a gift from her estranged father, decides to learn to play, hoping the action will bring the two closer. Though she misses her dad, Lou is comfortable with the “we” comprising herself, her mom, and her adored teenage sister, Casey, but everything changes when her mom suddenly marries Steve from their Christian church and the family moves from their tiny city apartment to Steve’s suburban home. As sensitive, religious Lou strives to adapt to change in her newly affluent white family, she also worries about her dad, who lives with alcohol addiction; losing her close relationship with her best friend Beth, who is Chinese American; and her sister’s unpredictable moods. As a way of coping, Lou begins to pocket small objects. This compassionate middle grade debut by Zarr (Goodbye from Nowhere) is rich in small, acutely observed moments (Lu and Beth suck on candy until it takes “the shape of the roof of their mouths” like a retainer) as well as complex and endearing characters. An exceptional, emotionally honest portrait of a tween navigating a blended family. Ages 8–12. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Feb.)