Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery by Heather Vogel Frederick
Everything was about to be perfect. Truly’s father was finally coming home from Afghanistan and leaving the service, so they’d bought a home in Austin, Texas just a block away from her cousin/best friend. It was supposed to be their forever home. But only a few days before his scheduled return, Truly’s dad’s unit was hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). He lost his arm, his best friend and his post-service job as a pilot. Now that he’s home everything is different. They have to move to remote Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire to take over Truly’s grandparents book store, but way worse is the fact that her dad simply isn’t himself anymore. Truly finds that it’s much easier making friends than she’d thought, but it might not be so easy getting her dad back.
This was a really enjoyable book. There’s a scavenger hunt/mystery that’s supposed to be the main story, but it’s not terribly compelling. What is interesting is Truly’s wild family (five kids!), the people of the town and her dad’s slow recovery. It’s the kind of book I would be shoving at kids left and right because it has a certain old-fashioned charm about it, with enough modern stuff to hold their attention. I was thrilled to see a book about a military family as well. Lots of kids these days have parents returning from service so it’s good to have a book that shows the transition back to life stateside can be pretty hard for the service member as well as the family. It would make a good pairing with Miracles on Maple Hill which also features a father who is changed after war.
Another likable thing, there’s a big interest in wrestling, which is something I don’t see come up often in books. Truly’s brothers all wrestle and the meets are well-attended. It’s good to see an independent sport shown in a popular light. Another plus, while Frederick doesn’t have main characters of color, she does include a Jewish family and she uses last names that indicate other people in town are not white.
Recommended for: Grades 4-8. Advanced third graders would probably be fine to read it, the content is pretty safe, but they might not find as much interest in it. Readers of old-fashioned style books will like this contemporary offering that doesn’t feel shallow.
Small note: Truly’s dad uses a prosthesis which is very advanced technology. I’m not sure how widely available it is right now, so if you are dealing with a student (or child) who has been through this, you might want to be prepared to discuss this. It might be hard to field questions about why he has a “better” or more advanced prosthesis than others.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – Truly’s cousin is into boys. A girl is “obsessed” with a boy. There’s a reference to romance novels and a description of their covers featuring “shirtless-men-kissing-beautiful-women”. There’s some talk of underwear but not in a sexual way. There’s a comment that an adult man is flirting with an adult woman.
Profanity – “stupid”, “moron”, “heck”, “twerp”, “shut up”, “lame”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Truly’s father is wounded in the war by an IED, Improvised Explosive Device. He lost an arm. His best friend was killed. One boy’s father died when he was young. There are some snowball fight related antics. Truly threatens to “deck” someone.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Truly’s father has been different since he returned from Afghanistan. His loss of an arm meant loss of job offers as well. Truly reflects that he has spent much of her life deployed or going to bed early because of his military schedule. There’s a risk of a loan coming due and people being unable to pay. A character is in a perilous position after falling in icy water, but it turns out okay, help gets there in time. Her younger sister is afraid of their father’s hook.