Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Review: Thatcher Payne-in-the-Neck by Betty Bates (1985)

In this 1985 middle grade novel, Kimberly "Kib" Slocum, the narrator, and Thatcher Payne are best friends who spend their summers together at Trout Lake. A few years ago, Kib's mom and Thatcher's dad were killed when the small plane in which they were traveling during a storm crashed. Now there is lots of enmity between the adults in both families, which occasionally puts on a strain on Kib and Thatcher's friendship. A desire to fix the rift between their families drives the two friends to hatch a scheme to bring their widowed parents together romantically. When it looks their plan might work, however, Kib begins to second-guess wanting to be in the same family as her best friend.

This is another book I discovered via @yearlingreads on Instagram, and which I then borrowed from Open Library. Despite the sad backstory, this is actually a very humorous little novel, which explores the fantasy some kids have of having their best friends become their siblings. The road to romance is pretty smooth for the parents, which doesn't feel particularly realistic, especially given the strain on the relationship between the two families, but the kids' adjustment to being year-round siblings instead of just seasonal best friends does have the ring of truth.

The illustrations are by Linda Strauss Edwards, who also illustrated a lot of Jamie Gilson's books that I remember from childhood. Each chapter has one pen-and-ink drawing, showing a key moment from the text. The faces on Edwards's figures remind me a little bit of Mercer Mayer, and I like the way she captures the details of clothing and facial expressions. She does a good job of bringing out the various emotions involved in Kib and Thatcher's unusual situation, and the clothes they wear are decidedly a product of their time. 

This book moved a little too quickly and tied things up a little too neatly for my taste as an adult, but as a kid, I know the upbeat tone of the text, and the quickness with which problems are resolved would have been necessary to distract me from the sadness of the characters having lost their parents. This isn't a book I feel I would ever need to own, but I'm glad to have read it, and would gladly read more by this author.

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