cover image Eleven


Patricia Reilly Giff, . . Random/Lamb, $15.99 (164pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73069-3

The day before he turns 11, Sam searches the attic for hidden birthday presents and discovers more than he bargained for: a newspaper clipping showing a photograph of him as a missing child. In this exquisitely rendered story of self-discovery, Giff (Lily’s Crossing ) creates what she calls a “jig-saw puzzle” of a book, showing readers how Sam pieces together artifacts and his own flashbacks to find out whether Mack, the man he has lived with for as long as he can remember, really is his grandfather. Learning the truth requires research, and Sam, a special-needs student who has trouble reading, solicits help from Caroline, a new girl at school. As they embark on two projects—building a medieval castle for social studies and solving the mystery of Sam’s past—they also construct a solid friendship, despite Caroline’s parents’ plans for another, imminent move. Although the premise echoes that of Caroline Cooney’s The Face on the Milk Carton , the similarity ends there. Evoking an entirely different mood and set of circumstances, this intimate story realistically examines friendship, family secrets and the struggles of a learning-disabled child trying to make sense of the world. Given the author’s expertise at developing sympathetic characters and creating a suspenseful plot, readers will find the complexity of Sam’s vulnerabilities to be as intriguing as the unfolding enigma of his past. Ages 8-13. (Jan.)