Bonnie Shimko’s debut novel, Letters in the Attic, takes place in the 1960’s and begins when twelve-year-old Lizzie McMann’s sleazebag father, Manny, announces that he would like a divorce. She and her unstable mother, Veronica, leave Arizona for upstate New York to live with her grandparents. In New York, Lizzie finds letters that indicate that Manny was not her father. But the core of the story comes from the new relationships of both mother and daughter. Veronica begins to date Mr. Stephens, a nice man. Lizzie meets Eva Singer, a Jewish girl, who is dyslexic, smokes, and looks like Natalie Wood. Lizzie is immediately attracted to Eva. With humor and tenderness, the novel portrays Lizzie’s confusion and pain about her budding sexuality as well as her mother’s often erratic behavior. Judaism does not seriously impact the dramatic turns of this novel. Although Eva is Jewish, religion and spirituality are not central to the novel’s themes. The novel’s strength is its protagonist. Lizzie is charming and inquisitive. She sometimes seems more mature and observant than the usual twelve year old and sometimes the abundant descriptions slow down the pace of the narrative. In general, however, the novel is emotionally driven and offers enough surprises to keep the reader interested. Ages 12 and up.
Sarah Aronson holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. She is a full time writer and has recently published her first novel, Head Case (Roaring Brook) for young adults. Sara blogs every Thursday for the Lilith blog.