The Center of Everything. by Linda Urban. March 5, 2013. Harcourt Children's Books. 208 pages. ISBN: 9780547763484
Ruby Pepperdine lives in the small town of Bunning, New Hampshire, where everyone is obsessed with donuts. On Bunning Day, at the town parade, Ruby will be reading her essay about the history of Bunning, which was selected as the winner from among many submissions. This is a great honor, of course, but Ruby has bigger things on her mind - mainly, the fact that her grandmother, Gigi, died, and Ruby didn’t listen when she tried to give her a final important message. Ruby has used her birthday wish to ask for a way to make things right, and she has been looking for signs ever since, but if nothing happens before Bunning Day ends, Ruby can’t imagine how she will move on.
Like Linda Urban’s last book, Hound Dog True, this is a sensitive and introspective middle grade novel, this time about one girl’s struggle to find her place after losing someone close to her. The novel has an interesting structure, in that the entire story takes place on Bunning Day, but events taking place in the present are interspersed with flashbacks to the recent past that give context to Ruby’s actions on Bunning Day. It is in the flashback sequences that the reader gets to know Gigi, as well as Ruby’s best friend, Lucy and her new friend Nero Deniro. These flashbacks also reveal Ruby as a nervous girl who worries about appearances and the way things are “supposed to be.” She wants to mourn correctly, to do the right thing in all situations for all people, and when she doesn’t feel that she has lived up to these external expectations, she takes it very hard. She is a girl who believes that her world is infused with meaning, and that it’s up to her to decode the signs she is given and make sense of what her grandmother, or the universe might be trying to tell her.
I didn’t care very much for Hound Dog True, but The Center of Everything spoke to me much more clearly. I could relate to Ruby’s silent suffering at the loss of her grandmother, and to the burden of perfectionism that she places on her own shoulders. I became deeply engrossed in the small-town atmosphere, and the Bunning Day parade reminded me of so many parades I attended as a kid in my own small town. Ruby’s younger cousins’ interest in the candy being thrown from the parade floats brought back so many memories.
Though The Center of Everything won’t appeal to every reader, it is a special book that will undoubtedly speak volumes of truth to certain readers. Kids who have connected with Linda Urban’s books in the past will find more of the same humor and sensitivity in The Center of Everything. It is also a great read-alike for Criss-Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins, The Boy on Cinnamon Street by Phoebe Stone and One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joann Rocklin. Though it’s very early in the year to be considering next year’s potential Newbery contenders, this book looks like Newbery material to me - and several others on Goodreads have said the same. I highly recommend this slim, but powerful novel, to middle grade readers and their parents, librarians, and teachers.
I received a digital ARC of The Center of Everything from Harcourt Children's Books via NetGalley. The book will be published tomorrow, March 5, 2013.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads.