Into the Tall, Tall Grass

S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Apr. 2020. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534449671.
Gr 5-8–Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has waited years to develop her forbearers’ secret gift—when people in her family turn 12, they gain a magical skill. But since her grandfather Welo passed away a year ago, everything’s been going wrong. Her twin Sonja’s gift surfaced, and Yolanda’s didn’t; her best friend Ghita ditched her for Sonja; and now, her grandmother Wela’s failing health may force the girls into foster care. On top of everything else, magic seems to be going haywire on their desert property, sprouting tall grass and twisting the landscape. On Wela’s instructions, Yolanda leads a ragtag group on an adventure to explore her family’s past, hoping a mysterious box and the last pecan tree standing on their land can fix everything. Ryon delivers a touching peek into the daily struggles of a modern family. The tinge of whimsical magic permeating the Rodríguez line creates the perfect ambiance for stirring up, and resolving, conflict among Yolanda, those she cares for, and the town. With Yolanda and Sonja’s father in the army and Wela terribly ill, the topic of death is examined in a deeply real and relatable fashion as characters work through grief and commemoration. Yolanda blossoms on the pages as her mission to help Wela has her confronting truths about her family’s magic, her responsibility to loved ones, and her acceptance of herself.
VERDICT A must-have tale, perfect for fans of emotionally resonant magical realism like Karen Strong’s Just South of Home.

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