186 pages, hardcover.
“Touch blue and your wish will come true.”
The state of Maine is going to shut down their little schoolhouse if they do not get more students by the next year. The islanders (off the coast of Maine) come up with the plan to take in foster children. Tess Brooks’ family helps by taking in 13-year-old Aaron, a boy who has moved around in the system and figures he won’t be with this foster family any longer than previous homes. Tess will need all her luck to convince Aaron that he belongs and to convince herself that everything is going to work out so she and her family will not have to move away from the island. Touch blue is a story about belonging.
Cynthia Lord’s debut novel was that little 2007 Newbery Honor book Rules. Rules (Scholastic, 2006) is about a 12-year-old girl whose younger brother is autistic and she has created these rules to help him, and her, function easier. It is a nice little read about often difficult topics, coping with siblings with disabilities and life’s non-rule following nature. I recommend the read. Touch blue tackles other interesting conversations, what it might mean to add a foster child to the family and Luck—life’s unpredictable and unfair nature and trajectories.
Lord’s Rules and touch blue are the kind you can learn from, but are also easily enjoyed. They make you uncomfortable at moments, but there isn’t a continual throbbing pain pulsating at the core of the book and radiating up your arm to settle at the base of your neck occasionally pricking the tear duct. Any empathy learned is learned alongside the first-person narrators as they learn to cope in the situations they are given.
Another charm to Rules and touch blue is the chapter epigraphs. In Rules they are the rules Catherine records for David. In touch blue they are the Lucky (superstitious) Sayings/rules by which Tess lives, Chapter 6: Never whistle on a boat. Chapter 10: Never say “drowned” at sea. Of course, the saying is worked into the chapter, while the chapter is yet a fluid part of the whole.
Lord does a really nice job of placing the reader on the island with Tess, good descriptions; interesting and well-realized characters; an affable, normal girl as guide—a good girl in a tight spot who demonstrates that the “right thing to do” is not always readily apparent. Lord sets the story down in the center of Tess’ worries. Her best friend moved away and the island already has little resources in that regard. Her mom might lose her job as the Island Teacher, which means they would have to move to the mainland. The dad would still be a fisherman, commuting, but that would mean Tess couldn’t go out with him, and she has aspirations of becoming a fisherwoman herself.
The answer to Tess’ worries is Aaron. He, with the other foster children, will fill the required seats at the schoolhouse, and he would be a sibling closer in age and interests—a potential friend. However, very quickly Aaron becomes another worry. Sure, she needs him to stick, but when she comes to understand his concerns, her worries begin to include what might benefit him.
Cynthia Lord balances the light-hearted with the complicated and hurting. She has the charm and steady hand. A story involving custody issues, a state’s views, and a crap parent is an uncomfortable read especially when the author is going to offer “perspective.” Perhaps I should stick to middle-grade novels who can look at these situations and remove some of the stinging grit without actually looking away, so you needn’t look away either. Susan Patron and Kate DiCamillo are other authors who have this ability.
Whether the reader has any passing familiarity with any of the situations in the book, most everyone should identify with the central theme of belonging. In touch blue some are taken from their homes and others are fighting to stay; and some simultaneously doing both. Home is where they belong. It is the people and the community/environment, whether it’s in the blood or no. We all require risks, compassion, and little bit of luck. And we all want to belong.
Touch blue has a “happy ending,” satisfactory without sacrificing the credibility it spent the pages building. The novel is an easy read, compelling and entertaining, however complicated the life illustrated. There are a lot of good conversations borne by this book—both easy and difficult. A good one to read together; it’s an easy one for both adult and child to enjoy.
I highly recommend touch blue.
Powell’s has 9-12…I can’t disagree. Boys and girls. Where Rules had the protagonist/narrator as an artist, in touch blue Aaron plays the trumpet, so there are nice music metaphors for the musically inclined. Boats, friendship, obnoxious but irreplaceable little sisters…
If you are hoping for a nice read, the book is blue.
a bit of my commentary on Rules amidst some rambling-yikes.