Robin Vaupel, Author . Holiday $16.95 (244p) ISBN 978-0-8234-1701-8

What begins as an English class project on Henry David Thoreau's Walden has wider repercussions for a group of eighth-grade misfits. "No one was listening to Henry; they hadn't even heard his knock at the door. But I had," notes Beth Gardner, who sees a kindred spirit in the 19th-century philosopher. She's been doing her best to "disappear" at school and is alarmed to find herself teamed with nerdy Hollis, sullen Rachel and take-charge Stuart for an assignment to put a portion of Thoreau's philosophy into practice. Together, her group re-creates Thoreau's cabin in an old-growth forest that borders their Michigan town, and afternoons and weekends are soon consumed with this secret life. As the seasons change, readers are drawn into the beauty of Wayburn Woods along with the students, whose lives are transformed both by friendship and by contact with the natural world. The diary Beth keeps ("The events of the day spilled out of my pen in a clear stream of words") eventually makes it into the school newspaper, sparking a rebellion when the woods are threatened by real estate developers. Debut novelist Vaupel's prose is crisp and often lyrical, and she sets off each chapter with an appropriate quote from Thoreau. But despite the fluid writing, the plot stretches plausibility. The voices and lofty ideals of the characters are never quite convincing, a problem magnified by the feel-good ending, where a no-longer-invisible Beth prepares to address a crowd that includes the governor. Ages 11-up. (June)

Reviewed on: 06/30/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Genre: Children's
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