Reviewer Lois C. Henderson: Lois is a freelance academic editor and back-of-book indexer, who spends most of her free time compiling word search puzzles for tourism and educative purposes. Her puzzles are available HERE and HERE Her Twitter account (@LoisCHenderson) mainly focusses on the toponymy of British place names. Please feel welcome to contact her with any feedback at LoisCourtenayHenderson@gmail.com.
Author: Elizabeth Atkinson
Publisher: Islandport Press
ISBN-10: 1939017718; ISBN-13: 978-1939017710
In Elizabeth Atkinson’s The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball, magical realism serves as both an entrance to, and the summation (at least for the tale at hand), of the dream world of two 6th grade girls, Ruby LaRue and Eleanor Bandaranaike, who have become close friends despite their widely different cultural backgrounds. While Ruby comes from a nonconformist, liberal background, where her stepmother is the primary caregiver (as all too often is the picture nowadays, as we well know), and her father is more often than not away from home, as a long-distance trucker, Eleanor comes from a more traditional and strict family context, wherein she is expected to conform to the expectations of her parents, in keeping with their Sri Lankan heritage. When the laxity of Ruby’s lifestyle (being allowed to eat more or less what she likes, and to spend her afternoons lazing in front of the TV together with her kid brothers, whom she is required to supervise while their Mom is at work, instead of doing her homework) comes up against that of the responsible and conscientious Eleanor, instead of there being conflict, the warmth of the former and the maturity of the latter leads them to respond positively towards each other, so much so that they become close allies, even to the extent of sharing their dreams. It is here where the magical realism comes into play, in the form of the predictions of a psychic, Madame Magnifique, who lives in Apparition Way (somewhat reminiscent of Diagon Alley in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe).
Little do the girls realize it at the time, but the transformation that is to come about in their lives has much more to do with their mutual learning how to cope with the challenges that beset their daily lives, and how to overcome any obstacles that lie in the way of their achievement of their dreams, than it has to do with psychic powers. The empathetic and respectful portrayal of the widely ranging characters and social groupings that fill the pages of this middle reader is a definite strength of Atkinson’s writing, which she has already shown in such widely applauded works as I, Emma Freke and From Alice to Zen and Everyone In Between. The author’s ability to handle the slightly unusual with ease is a mark of her essential humanity―no wonder, then, that she is such a born storyteller, who is able to deal with exceptional characters, such a wealthy boy who has Asperger’s syndrome, by showing how much all people have in common underneath it all.
Not only does Atkinson prove her mastery of characterization, but she is also most adept at introducing elements of wonder and mystery into her works, whether it be a Richie Rich type scenario (that she shows to be absolutely no fun if you don’t have friends with which to share it), or a weird cloaked figure that appears to be spying on the girls. Truly, apart from The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball being an inspiring and informative work (with many a useful tip about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise carefully and unobtrusively blended into the mix), it is fun and exciting. In short, it should appeal to any pre-adolescent, no matter the gender―it comes highly recommended.