cover image Isabel and the Miracle Baby

Isabel and the Miracle Baby

Emily Smith Pearce, . . Front Street, $15.95 (125pp) ISBN 978-1-932425-44-4

The tantrum-prone protagonist of this multi-layered debut novel seems a smidge spoiled at first glance, but underneath eight-year-old Isabel's fits-and-starts temper lies a very ordinary need for attention. Unfortunately for her, the people whose notice she yearns for are justifiably preoccupied. Her father works around the clock while Isabel's four-month-old sister, Rebekah, keeps their mother perpetually busy. To Isabel, the baby is a huge disappointment: Rebekah doesn't feel like a sister but like “some grunting animal that wasn't potty trained.” While the novel works on this basic level, it becomes more noteworthy for Pearce's graceful weaving of a larger and more difficult subject into the narrative: Isabel's mother has had cancer (explaining why her mother's friends dub Rebekah a “miracle baby”), and although the illness is in remission, the fear of its return is never far from Isabel's mind. Learning how to share her mother with the baby and with the “sick ladies” (her mother's cancer support group), much less how to gain some optimism, Isabel realizes that adults as well as kids can grow from their mistakes. Pearce stays true to Isabel's young perspective even as she conveys the character's complicated discoveries about growing up. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)