cover image The Outsmarters

The Outsmarters

Deborah Ellis. Groundwood, $18.99 (248p) ISBN 978-1-77306-857-2

When 12-year-old Kate was nine, her single mother “dumped” her with her gran who runs “the largest junk business in the tri-county area” of Canada, where Ellis (One More Mountain) sets this absorbing, smartly paced novel. Kate’s struggles managing her anger and destructive behavior meet a worthy opponent in Gran, whose severity and sharp tongue force Kate to learn to control her temper. Certain her mother will return for her, Kate opens a Philosophic Help booth on the junkyard grounds to earn money, and counsels customers with quotations from eminent thinkers such as the ancient Greeks, Anne Frank, and Toni Morrison. Feeling betrayed by adults and peers, Kate decides to “be powerful in the service of my vision.” The narrative follows Kate as she makes unlikely allies in pursuing said vision: to pass the GED and leave school. Along the way, Ellis reveals moments from Kate’s past that detail the emotional and physical abuse inflicted upon her. Narrated in Kate’s tough yet sympathetic voice and replete with complex characters navigating difficult issues, this hard-hitting, hopeful story also holds warmhearted moments of friendship and community, which are even more powerful for being hard-won. Major characters read as white. Ages 10–13. (Aug.)