cover image Something Terrible Happened

Something Terrible Happened

Barbara Ann Porte. Orchard Books (NY), $16.95 (214pp) ISBN 978-0-531-06869-4

Gillian's life in New York with her mother and grandmother is idyllic in many ways; cocooned in the culturally rich circle of their generous love, she has been raised to consider herself an ``Island'' girl-even though her forebears left the West Indies when her great-grandmother was three years old. But when her mother is diagnosed with AIDS, 10-year-old Gillian is sent to stay with her dead father's ``all white'' family in Tennessee, strangers to her. Coping with her mother's death in this alien setting forces Gillian to rely on strength gathered from her mother's stories. This unusual book charts its own serendipitous course, stopping at the whim of the storytelling narrator's remembrances (Porte has previously demonstrated her storytelling gifts in such picture books as When Grandma Almost Fell Off the Mountain). Because the speaker takes little part in the action here, her self-referential asides can be distracting at first. But in these interpolations are windows that peer candidly into the soul, at the same time introducing timeless remedies for modern crises in the form of culturally diverse and often funny folktales. Once in concert with its unique rhythm, the reader will burrow into this story and relish its nuggets of insight. Ages 11-14. (Oct.)