cover image Her Blue Straw Hat

Her Blue Straw Hat

C. S. Adler. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201466-7

If Adler's (What's to Be Scared Of, Suki?) title evokes something sunny, breezy or quaint, the contemporary story line offers something quite different. Months after 11-year-old Rachel adjusts to her mother MJ's marriage to schoolteacher Ben (whose impulsive gift of a blue straw hat comes to symbolize their mutual affection), Ben's own daughter, Tina, arrives on the scene, unexpectedly accompanied by Carlos, whose married father is dating Tina's mother. With the two visitors in tow, Rachel's family heads off to their cabin at Cape Cod, where resentments inevitably arise. Tina is jealous of Rachel's relationships with MJ and Ben; Rachel is irritated by Tina's self-centeredness and troublemaking ways; and Carlos's broodiness drags everyone down. Then comes the news that MJ is three months pregnant. Given the number of bombs dropped on Rachel during her first few days of vacation, she remains remarkably congenial and diplomatic. Meanwhile, the adults (whose feathers are only slightly ruffled by the last-minute guests) move like shadows in the background, leaving the children to settle their own problems. Adler is effective in contrasting Rachel's secure home life with the uprootedness faced by the other two, but the book's abrupt quality (Tina and Carlos exit as suddenly as they enter) and flat characterizations lessen its overall impact. Ages 8-12. (Aug.)