Letters in the Attic by Bonnie Shimko

This is historical fiction set in the early 1960's and at the same time, a coming of age story for 12 year old Elizabeth (Lizzy) McMann.

Lizzy has spent most of her life looking after her mother. When Manny, who she thinks is her father, leaves them, Lizzy and her mother end up in a small town in New York State living with previously unknown grandparents. It is a mixed blessing. Her grampa is loving and supportive, but her grandma is filled with bitterness and bile.

Ridgewood, New York, is filled with new experiences for Lizzy. The onset of her first period is every girl/woman's worst nightmare. On the other hand, when she purchases her first bra, it impossible not to laugh. Her relationship with her best friend, Eva, who she falls in love with, is complicated and tumultuous. Lizzy discovers her mother's secret life and learns who her real father is. When h
er mother gets engaged to Lizzy's teacher, it seems like they might have a happy ending after all.

I enjoyed this book and there is much to recommend it. Lizzy is a strong character. She's smart, complex, and observant. The cast of supporting characters are multidimensional. 

I have been looking for a novel with a lesbian character I can comfortably hand out to grades 4 and up. This book meets this need. It is a positive addition to our existing LGBT collection, but I wanted more from Lizzy. We've got compelling gay protagonists in Totally Joe by James Howe and Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. These are characters who appeal to everyone and kids can see themselves being friends with. Unfortunately, I don't see Lizzy appealing to kids in the same way. Some of this might be because the story is historical fiction and I'm not sure kids will get and understand all the cultural references. Mostly I think it's because Lizzy just doesn't shine in the way those boys do. For great chunks of this book Lizzy felt like a ghost. Don't get me wrong, I liked her, I just couldn't come to care deeply for her in the way I did for Joe and Nate. So while I'm happy as can be to have Lizzy in our library, I don't think she will take off like those boys have. 

I'm going to hand the book out to some of my readers and see what they think of her. I hope to have to eat my words. 

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