cover image The Ashwater Experiment

The Ashwater Experiment

Amy Goldman Koss. Dial Books, $16.99 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2391-7

Seventh-grader Hillary has moved around so much that nothing in her environment seems to have a past or a future. She wonders if buildings, towns and even people really exist or are merely images planted in her imagination by invisible ""Watchers,"" who wait to see how she will react to new settings and situations. Koss (The Trouble with Zinny Weston) portrays Hillary with such sympathy and wit that readers understand her Watchers game as a comic expression of the loneliness Hillary cannot express. When Hillary's ""gypsy"" parents, who make their living selling handmade ""gizmos"" at street fairs and bazaars all over the country, accept a house-sitting job in Ashland, Calif., Hillary assumes it is another of the Watchers' experiments. Gradually, however, her surroundings begin seeming more solid than illusory. She makes friends with two classmates, one the leader of the popular clique and the other a misfit, and the borrowed house begins to feel like a home. This sensitively wrought novel contains enough unique personalities and interesting twists to keep the audience absorbed. Hillary's need to establish roots and her mildly conflicted loyalty to her parents are thoughtfully conveyed, and the conclusion, realistic rather than easy, ends the story on a poignant note. Like Hillary's new friends in Ashwater, readers will be sorry to see this heroine go. Ages 9-13. (June)