Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Review: The Not-Just Anybody Family by Betsy Byars (1986)

The Blossom kids know better than to hang around when the police show up, so when the cops come looking for their grandfather, Pap, both Maggie and Vern run off into the woods and hide. Unfortunately, Junior, their brother, is on the roof of the barn attempting to fly with cloth wings, and his getaway is thwarted when he falls and breaks both his legs. With their mom away with the rodeo, their dog, Mud, missing, Pap in jail and Junior in the hospital, Maggie and Vern are left to their own devices, and they must rely on their own ingenuity to bring everyone back together again, whatever it takes.

In this book, as she does in The Pinballs (1977), Betsy Byars explores the lives of realistic kids in a difficult, but entirely plausible, situation. She does not shy away from the negative emotions Maggie, Vern, and Junior each feel as things crash down around them, but she doesn’t allow them to wallow in negativity either. Rather, she focuses on the ways in which kids themselves can be empowered to make their own good fortune, and to fight against life’s problems by relying on each other. Readers will be delighted when Vern manages to break into jail, and they will be equally thrilled by Junior’s hospital roommate, Ralphie, whose spunky attitude and outrageous lies help him cope with the loss of his legs. Animal lovers, too, will be pleased to follow Mud as he, too, tries to track down his master and get back to the warmth and comfort of home.

The Not-Just-Anybody Family is a great family story about sticking together in times of trouble. Though some of the subject matter is quite serious, the kids’ adventures in jail, in the hospital, and in the courtroom provide a lot of laughs that make readers fall in love with the Blossoms and want to be a part of their family, however dysfunctional it might be. Kids who have quirky families of their own, or who are sick of sugary-sweet stories about typically happy families will get a kick out of this book, and will undoubtedly look forward to its four sequels: The Blossoms Meet the Vulture Lady, The Blossoms and the Green Phantom, A Blossom Promise, and Wanted… Mud Blossom.

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