February 28, 2012

Out of the Box

by Michelle Mulder

Ellie's mom gets upset a lot and her dad likes to stay in his office. To ensure life runs smoothly, Ellie posts a chore list for each of them and tries to stay out of their way. So she's happy to spend the summer with her Aunt Jeanette, who is mourning the recent death of her partner. While helping Jeanette clean out her basement, Ellie finds a bandone√≥n, a type of accordion used by Argentine musicians. In the instrument's case are letters, airline tickets and a large amount of American and Argentinian money. She sets out to find the bandone√≥n's owner, and learns about the military dictatorship in Argentina at that time (1976) and the desaparecidos. Additionally, she is dealing with a new friend and Jeanette's assertions that her mother is struggling with a mental illness. 

This novel deals with a lot of issues. Family, friends, politics, grief, mystery, music, depression, anxiety, and uncertainty. There are no easy answers or nicely wrapped-up endings. But Ellie's voice is strong and her growing maturity is beautiful to see. 

A complex, rewarding novel for middle-grade readers.

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