Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Reviews, Divorce, and Wishes - Bigger Than a Breadbox, by Laurel Snyder

Just finished reading this wonderful new offering from Laurel Snyder:

Snyder is the author of Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, which I loved, Any Which Wall, which I have yet to read, and Penny Dreadful, which I reviewed here. I have been dying to read this one, but we were in an ordering freeze here. Fortunately - and I have a sneaking suspicion Snyder had something to do with this - a copy from the publisher appeared in my box last week. Of course, other things got in the way, and it wasn't until today that I was able to give it a decent amount of time?

Did I say time? I finished it on my lunch break. In my car. With the motor running, knowing my lunch hour was actually over, and I was late, but unable to close up the book, turn off the engine, and get out of the car.

So, we can start by assuming I liked it. Let's go on by looking at why I liked it:

The premise is interesting enough to grab readers right off. Rebecca knows things have been tense between her parents, but she does not expect her mother to suddenly whisk her and her little brother off to another state, to live with their grandmother for an indefinite period of time while Mom "figures things out". In Grandmother's attic, Rebecca finds an old breadbox that has the power to grant wishes - as long as the thing you are wishing for appears in the breadbox.

Rebecca, of course, has read enough books to know that you have to be careful with wishes, and she thinks she is. My younger self would have appreciated this immensely - I hated it when main characters made foolish, obvious mistakes - everybody knows you have to plan your wishes! (Be honest, now, did you start making a careful list in your head when you read the previous paragraph?) Unfortunately, no matter how well thought out things like this appear at first, they have a way of falling apart. Rebecca is appalled when she discovers what she has done (and no, I'm not going to give you any hints as to what that is), and tries to make amends.

Which brings us to the character of Rebecca. Snyder has always been very good at building characters we can relate to, and she only gets better with each book. Rebecca is spot-on real for her age and situation. She isn't perfect, sometimes reacts out of anger and typical twelve-year-old self-absorbtion, but is basically a kind and caring person. This would be enough to make readers care about what happens to her, but somehow Snyder manages to take us from caring about her to feeling like we ARE her - like what is happening to her is hapening to us at the same time. That is a rare gift, and a little bit of magic in itself.

While in Penny Dreadful some of the secondary characters weren't as fleshed out, we quickly get a strong sense of Rebecca's parents, brother and grandmother (and that awful school secretary - ugh!). Part of this, I think, is that we are privy to some scenes with her parents that involve some very strong emotions. Which brings us around again to the plot.

Besides being a book about magic, this is a book about divorce, and the many ways it can affect a child. As Snyder says on her blog, "’s like there’s this acceptable range of emotion–sad but not too sad.  Weird, right?" That's a good description of the book as a whole - sad (yes, you made me cry again Ms. Snyder), but not too sad. A difficult balance to achieve with the subject matter, but when that balance is there, we librarians can hand the book off to a wide variety of patrons with no reservations.

Every divorce is different. Every child is different. Sometimes - often, really - good things can come out of a bad situation if we let them. Of course, we (both kids and adults) then feel guilty about enjoying the good things. There are certain ways you are SUPPOSED to feel, and if you don't feel that way, then, well, theree is something wrong with you.

I remember when I was very young - 3rd grade, I believe - and my parents sat my brother and I down to tell us they were getting a divorce. They assured us that it had nothing to do with us, that they both still loved us, etc., etc., and asked if we had any questions. My brother asked if we would have to move, I asked if we could still keep the dogs (because, in the books I read, if you moved you inevitably had to leave a beloved pet behind). They answered, er, no...and no. Then we asked if we could go play.

That was it, I'm afraid. No sobbing in our rooms, no feeling of impending doom. Our immediate fears were quickly relieved, so we were good to go. I remember going to school the next day and sharing the news, happy to have something that made me special for the day. My parents did something very unusual for the first few months: instead of my brother and I getting shuttled back and forth, they rented an apartment 'in town', and they took turns living with us. Our rooms, school, etc. stayed the same, and it was always a little bit exciting to 'visit' the other parent at the apartment, although I don't ever remember spending the night there.

Throughout the years, people would occasionally try to make out that we must have been traumatized by the divorce in some way, which would always, pardon my French, p*** me off. Nobody, especially an adolescent girl, likes to be told how they are feeling! I certainly think the divorce and eventual remarriages must have shaped my life in different ways, just as any family changes will. Whether it was all a good or bad shaping would be impossible to say. It is rare that we can point to one part of our personality and trace it to a specific event or person in our lives.

Snyder is quick to point out that, while parts of this book were built out of her own experiences, it's not an exact match. On her blog, she asks if others would be interested in sharing their own memories of their parents' divorce. Or their friends' parents' divorce. Or their wish that their parents would divorce. (A recent discussion among bloggers dissolved from wishing for a divorce into confessions of wishing for glasses or braces or broken bones, either because everyone else had them or because they would set you apart!) You can read some of the responses and perhaps add your own right here. I just did!


  1. Oh, wow. What a lovely review. But more than that, what an innovation your parents made. Stabilizing the kids and rearranging themselves instead, during the transition. I think that says a LOT... I have never heard of this, and think it's brilliant.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. I too am impressed that your parents rented an apartment in town and took turns living in it, rather than shuttling you back and forth. They really did take your feelings into account, and that speaks volumes. Thanks for posting this review and your experience of divorce.