cover image Semiprecious


D. Anne Love. Margaret K. McElderry Books, $17.99 (293pp) ISBN 978-0-689-85638-9

Love's (The Puppeteer's Apprentice) novel set in the 1960s describes the experiences of 12-year old narrator Garnet and her 15-year old sister, Opal, whose vain, demanding mother prizes her dream of becoming a country singer more than her so-called ""precious gems."" Garnet's narration takes a while to find the right pitch, but when it does it hits some high notes. After the girls try to orchestrate the perfect birthday for their mother, their father ignores their advice to get her a coveted guitar and instead gives their mother a vacuum cleaner; she explodes, plucks the girls from their Texas home, and drops them with her sister, Julia, in backward Willow Flats, Okla., so she can finally try her luck in Nashville. Garnet struggles against her shame at being poor and her anger towards her mother; when she finally tracks her mother down, she realizes the extent of the woman's betrayal (she has been stealing their father's disability checks, while the children and their aunt have been near starvation). Cultural references to the space race, sit-ins in the South, speculation about Senator Kennedy running for president, all help to place the narrative in the context of its time. However, the import given to Garnet's evolving passion for art seems overblown. Ultimately, what will stay with readers is the heroine's gradual realization that to her mother she's only ""semiprecious,"" and her courage to embrace life anyway. Ages 10-14.