Title: My Diary from the End of the World
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
Nutshell: Gracie is a force of nature. She’s broken her collarbone, she terrorizes her older sister, and once she tried to touch a dragon and nearly got crushed. She does things the loud way, takes no guff from anyone, and if something isn’t right, she beats it until it is.
But she can’t beat a Dark Cloud.
Dark Clouds come for people who are about to die, to take them to the afterlife. Gracie’s little brother, Sam is always sick, and the Cloud comes practically up on to their doorstep. Trying desperately to save him, their Dad buys a camper and loads them all in: Mom, Millie, Gracie, Sam, and the neighborhood runaway, Oliver, and takes them on a journey. They’re trying to find the Extraordinary Land, a place where there is no magic and people live easier lives. Lives without Clouds to carry them off.
The trouble is, only crazy people believe in the Extraordinary Land.
Readalikes: This reminds me of The Spiderwick Chronicles, by DiTerlizzi and Black. The Thirteenth Child, by Patricia Wrede is also about a hostile, magical America, in a very different time. This book is difficult to categorize because I, at least, have not read very many “whole family” adventures. The world itself is most like either Terry Pratchet or Douglas Adams.
This book was powerful, especially for a book for young readers. Sure, Gracie is a dangerous whirlwind, but she’s also reached the age where one begins to see their parents as people. She’s coming to grips with this new understanding at the same time that her parents are changing her whole world, and theirs too. The emotional mayhem that this causes is marvelously captured, and I really liked the way Gracie handled it.
Don’t be put off by that paragraph. Most if this book is a hilarious adventure. There is, for example, Gracie’s grandmother, who is a witch and opened a cave in her backyard so she could collect ghosts. There’s Oliver, a kid who spens some of his spare time feeding donuts to sasquatches and trying to teach them to hum Hotel California. (That makes more sense in context.) There’s a cut-rate guardian angel with a crush on Gracie’s older sister.
The family in this book feels very real. Millie was the older sister, with the drama of a teenager. Gracie, younger sister and sometime pest, like to call her a bubble-head with all the stern lack-of-understanding that a younger sister can muster. And Sam is the baby. Gracie tells him the story of when he came home to them, and he snuggles. Dad is a space case; Mom is vibrant.
The world is crazy. Apparently, the industrial revolution was curtailed because of all the mythological creatures and magic, so they have things like TJMaxx, but also almost nobody lives between the Appalachians and the Rockies because of how dangerous and wild the majority of America is. The children have to take tunnels to school during dragon migration season. (I couldn’t tell if subways are a thing.) Sasquatches are a serious problem in mountainous areas.
This was a super-fun adventure about family, and appreciating what you have, and loyalty, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!